Wait may get longer for help with addiction

Wait may get longer for help with addiction

CHAMPAIGN — Need help for drug or alcohol addiction?

There's already a wait, and it could lengthen next year.

Two local treatment agencies expect to see increased demand as more people gain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act in 2014, but they're not in a financial position to expand.

The Prairie Center, which provides drug and alcohol treatment for patients in East Central Illinois, already has waiting lists for its residential and outpatient programs, says its CEO Bruce Suardini.

The Prairie Center has been preparing for a wave of clients with new health coverage, Suardini said, but it's also waiting on the state to pay up on about $1.3 million.

"You can't go forward with expansion until the state pays for services you've already rendered," he says.

Community Elements, a Champaign-based mental health provider that also provides some substance abuse treatment, is owed even more money by the state — about $1.9 million — said its CEO Sheila Ferguson.

But growing to serve more clients would take more than money, she says.

It requires information providers don't have yet.

Agencies can't plan to add capacity and staff until they know about eligibility, what providers will be paid, the professional level that will be required for delivering the care and other details, she said.

"I kind of think of it as a perfect storm," Ferguson said. "If people are going to become eligible and need access, capacity won't be there fast enough."

She and Suardini said agencies would be better prepared next year if they weren't in such a fragile funding condition.

"The state has really reneged on its obligation to keep community providers viable to provide for this new round of Affordable Care, where a new round of people are to come into the system," Suardini said.

The current wait through the Prairie Center for residential services is three weeks, and the wait for outpatient services can be one-to-two weeks, he said.

The Prairie Center hopes to be able to expand some capacity through a partnership with Presence Covenant Medical Center that is being studied but hasn't yet been approved by both the agency and hospital boards, he said.

Suardini said the Prairie Center hopes to reopen its detox center at the Urbana hospital and also relocate its residential program there.

The Prairie Center's detox center closed in 2011 because of state budget cuts, and the Prairie Center is negotiating with the state to get a license to reopen it, Suardini said.

Formerly at 122 W. Hill St., the detox center had been serving 700 to 800 people a year from 64 counties when it closed.

Covenant's new community resource center opening this month would be used to screen patients coming in for Prairie Center detox and residential services, Suardini said.

Suardini said Prairie Center has also submitted a proposal to the state, seeking funding for detox services to be redirected to this area where there is a need.

The state is looking at funding, protocol, access and best-practice principles for detox, and Suardini is an appointed member of a statewide task force looking at the issues and making recommendations, "and you can be assured I will advocate for medical detox services in central Illinois," he said in an email. "We have asked the state for $875,000 of their $1.2 million dollars to operate, with the difference coming from local support."

Presence Covenant's new resource center is going to be staffed with a patient navigator to work with patients who come to the emergency room when they're not actually ill, to redirect them to the community services they need.

Presence Covenant CEO Mike Brown declined to be interviewed about relocating some Prairie Center operations to the Urbana hospital.

But he did say in a written statement that his organization is taking the lead on working with Prairie Center and other local agencies to explore ways to address the critical behavioral health issues facing the community.

"There is no final decision or plan yet on how to meet this huge, unmet need, but we are working with these local agencies to come up with a solution," he said.

Ferguson said it might take the new system time to adjust next year, and some substance abuse treatment providers might decide they won't be able to add capacity to meet more demand.

"With the state so far behind in paying us, we need to have all the rules. If the payment for services isn't enough to cover cost of staff and operating, then you have a much more difficult decision to make," she said. "I think that's the dilemma of the state as a whole

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