Joliet plans to help deliver mental health treatment to any city resident who needs it and is willing to get it with a program described as unlike any other in the nation at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday.
The city has allocated $400,000 in a partnership with private provider Thriveworks and Silver Cross Hospital to make mental health treatment more accessible and more affordable.
The City of Joliet Community Health Program is aimed at removing delays people now face when seeking therapy by making mental health professionals available when they’re needed and paying bills for uninsured and underinsured patients through the city contribution to the program.
“People who suffer from a crisis need help immediately and cannot wait four to six weeks,” Joliet Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Carey said, citing what he said is the average national wait time for people trying to get a first session with a therapist.
Carey spoke at the ceremony that put on display the new Thriveworks facility, which includes five counseling offices and a play therapy area for children at the Silver Cross Professional Building, 1051 Essington Road. Silver Cross Hospital donated the space.
More than 15% of Joliet ambulance calls are for mental health issues, Carey said. Combine that with calls for substance abuse, and it’s 25% of all calls.
Those calls typically involve trips to the hospital before the patient is released without any ongoing care, Carey said. The same person often is taken to the hospital again and again without receiving care, he said.
“Everywhere we turn, people have the same story,” he said. “They can’t get access.”
Joliet paramedics now are providing people treated on mental health calls with information about how to get access to care, including the Thriveworks program. The fire department follows up in 72 hours with a phone call to check if the person was able to find help.
Thriveworks is providing therapists to assure access to care without a long wait. The city is providing money to cover the bills for patients who don’t have insurance or enough insurance to afford the $99 an hour cost for therapy at Thriveworks.
Ryan Culkin, chief counseling officer for Thriveworks, said the Joliet program was unique in the level of commitment by local government to fund access to mental health care.
“Joliet is the first,” Culkin said. “This is the most support I’ve seen from any city or county for mental health by far.”
Thriveworks will provide therapy both through in-person visits and telehealth care. Culkin said anywhere from 10 to 25 therapists could operate out of the Joliet clinic.
Sister Mary Frances Seeley, founder of the The Upper Room Crisis Hotline in Joliet, called the new program program “unparalleled” among mental health programs she has seen in her work on suicide prevention.
“There’s nothing else like it,” Seeley said. “I’ve been all over the world. I’ve traveled every continent except Antarctica.
Seeley is among local mental health professionals who worked with the fire department to develop the program.
Carey pointed to 12 suicides among high school students in Joliet and regional communities in the past school year as another sign of the need for greater access to mental health care.
He announced that the Joliet Township High School District plans to join the city to make funds available to ensure students who attend Joliet high schools but live outside the city get access to mental health care.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk in comments at the ceremony acknowledged that mental health is not an area in which city government typically gets involved. But, he said, the program “is something we can do to help deal with this growing crisis that is going on in our society.”