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CHAMPAIGN — Help is on the way for hundreds of Champaign County residents who haven’t been able to access badly-needed mental and behavioral health services.

Rosecrance Central Illinois has been awarded a two-year $4 million federal grant to address a critical need for those services in Champaign County.

The agency said it plans to team up with local law enforcement agencies to form a crisis co-responder team to work together in response to 911 calls from people experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis, according to Rosecrance Regional President Carlene Cardosi.

Cardosi said the goal would be to get people in crisis treatment in their moments of need and long-term follow-up care, and ultimately to reduce the number of mental health calls coming to the 911 emergency line.

Plans also call for starting an Assertive Community Treatment team to address the needs of those with more serious mental health issues, she said.

“For us, we see this as a huge solution to what the community has been telling us for years,” Cardosi said.

Rockford-based Rosecrance, which provides both mental health and addiction treatment services in Champaign County, has seen the need for the help it provides grow during the pandemic as people have been more isolated and cut off from support, Cardosi said.

A report this past April by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the numbers of adults with depression and anxiety grew from about 36 percent in August 2020 to about 41 percent this past February.

During the same time, the number of people reporting unmet mental health needs increased from about nine percent to nearly 12 percent, with the increases largest among those ages 18-29 with less than a high school education, according to the CDC.

Even before the pandemic, access to mental health providers for the uninsured in Champaign County was low. For every 444 uninsured people with mental health treatment needs, there was just one clinician as of 2019, Cardosi said.

As part of its service expansion plans in Champaign County, Rosecrance plans to hire more mental health providers and others to help fill the service gaps.

Rosecrance has projected it can serve an additional 600 clients through the two years of the grant period.

In a crisis co-responder program Rosecrance launched in November 2020 in Winnebago County, two staff members followed up on mental health calls to 911, Cardosi said. Since that time, more than 900 people have been served, with 66 percent linked to behavioral health services in the county and two percent incarcerated, she said.

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