Lockport, Plainfield townships connect with mental health programs

The new Thriveworks clinic is located inside the Silver Cross Professional Building at 1051 Essington Road in Joliet. Guests at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 12, 2022 head for the clinic afterwards for a tour.

Will County — Will County residents in Lockport and Plainfield Townships now have a new resource they can use if they are struggling with mental health but are unable to access care.

Since December, the two townships have been partnering with Thriveworks, an online and in-person mental health care provider, to offer free mental health services to residents in need.

The new program is modeled after a program started in 2022 by the Joliet Fire Department and is a partnership with Lockport and Plainfield townships, the Lockport Township Fire Protection District and the Plainfield Fire Protection District.

The programs in both Joliet and Lockport Township were inspired by the same issue: First responders receive a lot of emergency calls involving people going through a mental health crisis, many from repeat callers.

“When we get psych calls, all we can really do is take them to the hospital, where they can get referrals for future treatment, but a lot of the time they don’t follow up because it’s expensive, or there’s long waits, or it’s inconvenient,” Lockport Fire Chief John O’Connor said.

The new program gives the responding firefighters and emergency medical technicians more ability to help by referring residents to Thriveworks.

Residents can call the company and give a referral number from their local fire district when they schedule their first appointment. If patients are uninsured or if their insurance will not fully cover their treatment, the townships will cover their expenses so they can get the mental health services they need, including medication management.

“The goal is to eliminate repeat responses by the fire departments to the same people,” O’Connor said. “That is just a Band-Aid fix. It resolves certain incidents, but it doesn’t fix the root of the problem. What people need is long-term care.”

As part of the program, the fire districts will call patients to follow up after they are released from the hospital to provide them with information about Thriveworks and referral numbers if needed.

“Joliet has had great success with the program. I thought it would be cool if Lockport could offer something similar,” Lockport Township Supervisor Alex Zapien said.

Lockport Township approved the program in September, and it officially launched Dec. 18 with a budget of $10,000 to cover the first three months of expenses. Money that is allocated for the program but not used will roll over into the following year, since the townships will pay Thriveworks as needed based on submitted invoices.

Although the program was started to address people in crisis, it is not limited to individuals who call emergency services for assistance. A nonemergency line has been established through the Lockport Township Fire Protection District that allows residents to receive referral codes without using emergency services.

“They don’t have to be having a crisis, it could be a veteran who is struggling with [post-traumatic stress disorder] or a high school student who is overwhelmed with stress,” Zapien said. “They can just call the fire department and get a referral. Thriveworks sends us a monthly invoice, and their treatment will be covered.”

In order to reach the most residents possible, the fire districts are reaching out to local school districts and colleges as well as homeless shelters and nonprofit organizations to promote the service.

Making a difference

Joliet is particularly proud of its results with students in this program. Joliet fire Chief Jeff Carey said that in the 2021-22 school year, there were 12 suicides by high school students in the Joliet area.

With the program’s introduction in July 2022, that number has gone down, with zero high school suicides in the same 15-mile radius this school year.

“Reducing suicides was our biggest goal,” Carey said. “In the 18 months since we started the program, we’ve provided service to 1,400 residents, including 7,000 therapy sessions. That’s led to a 3% reduction in mental health-related phone calls and 31% drop in the suicide rate.”

The Joliet Fire Department first came up with the idea after the city of Joliet introduced Thriveworks as an employee service following the suicide of a Will County police officer.

“Mental health is something a lot of people don’t want to talk about but still needs to be addressed. This was a great fit. We have the tools and resources available to us, so we’re more than happy to help if we can.”

—  Chuck Willard, Plainfield Township administrator

“We heard about it and thought, ‘This is great. How do we get it to the community?’” Carey said. “We talked to Thriveworks and got them to agree to take Medicaid, and the city agreed to pay for anything that wasn’t covered. Then we got the township on board.

“There were a few bumps in the road, but now it’s running really smoothly.”

In its first year, Joliet’s program cost $92,000, significantly lower than originally estimated. Now that it has picked up, the costs are up to about $200,000 annually, half the original yearly expected cost.

Joliet Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Carey speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, July 12, 2022 for the new Thriveworks mental health clinic in Joliet.

“No demographic is unaffected by mental health issues,” Carey said. “This has been great. We’ve saved money on ambulance and emergency service calls, and we’ve seen people in the program make a lot of progress. Some of them have gotten jobs after seeking treatment, which means they’re now insured and don’t need us to cover them.”

If the program continues to spread throughout area townships, the organizers hope it may be adopted on a countywide basis. Joliet has reportedly already worked with 10 different fire departments that are working to adopt similar programs.

“Lockport has been phenomenal getting on board with this,” Carey said. “We all have the same issues with the gaps in the system.”

LTFPD serves Lockport Township as well as parts of Plainfield and Homer townships, which is how Plainfield was brought into the program as well. The overlapping jurisdictions made it a logical choice for the townships to start the program at the same time.

“With us and Lockport working together, we can cover a lot of ground,” Plainfield Township Administrator Chuck Willard said. “Townships are a great avenue for this program because we provide a lot of services for the residents. Chief Carey came and presented the metrics from Joliet to us, and our board got on board right away.

“Townships have always been about service. Mental health is something a lot of people don’t want to talk about but still needs to be addressed. This was a great fit. We have the tools and resources available to us, so we’re more than happy to help if we can.”

Plainfield Township estimated that the program will cost the township between $30,000 and $40,000 annually once it gets going. Lockport Township did not provide a cost estimate but said the board will use metrics from the first three months to reach a cost for the fiscal year starting in April.

“The benefit to society is definitely worth the investment,” Willard said.

“This eliminates the three biggest obstacles people face when seeking mental health: cost, access and transport,” Carey said.

O’Connor added: “This isn’t really related to fire protection, but we are looking after the health of our community. I’m excited to get this going and to see it gaining traction across the area.”

In addition to Lockport and Plainfield townships, Troy Township is looking to launch a similar program in the coming year.

Although it is served by the Lockport Township Fire Protection District and Lockport Township High School, which has met with LTFPD about promoting the Thriveworks service, Homer Township has not elected to take part in the program at this time.

“Our goal was to work with all the townships on this project,” O’Connor said. “We reached out to Homer Township as well, but they were not interested at this time. The township supervisor, Stephen Balich, did not give a reason.”

Although the program still is developing and has not been promoted widely, there already has been at least one resident who has used the service through the Lockport Township Fire Protection District.