‘Omnibus’ health care bill passed amid criticisms
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – A law recently signed by Gov. JB Pritzker will extend the deadline for the state to transfer criminal defendants deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial from jail to a mental hospital.
That same bill, House Bill 240, also gives nursing homes in Illinois two more years to comply with minimum staffing levels implemented in 2022 before getting fined by the Department of Public Health.
Those are just two parts of a 67-page “omnibus” health care bill that passed the General Assembly on the final day of its recent lame duck session.
And even though parts of the bill received criticism, many lawmakers who opposed those elements said they felt compelled to vote for it anyway because other parts of the bill were too important. Those necessary provisions included enabling certain rural hospitals to draw upon more federal funds, distributing federal disaster aid to ambulance services impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and extending the deadline for a shuttered hospital in Chicago’s west suburbs to reopen under new ownership.
“I think that there are some important changes in this bill, and I certainly disagree with the process of putting things together where some I really support and some I don’t,” said then-Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, during a committee hearing on the bill.
Bourne ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2022, giving up the opportunity for a fifth term in the House.
Extended jail stays
Previous standards set in Illinois law set a 20-day deadline for the Department of Human Services to assume custody of a criminal defendant deemed incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of insanity. DHS would then be required to place them in a psychiatric institution.
The new law extends the period a defendant can sit in jail to 60 days. And, if DHS cannot place the defendant in a facility in that amount of time, it can ask the court for 30-day extensions until such time as a space becomes available.
Officials in the Pritzker administration testified that DHS often isn’t able to do that, either because the agency doesn’t get notice from the court that a defendant needs to be transferred or because there simply aren’t enough staffed beds available in Illinois’ state-run mental institutions.
“I think it really was just an attempt to try to be realistic,” said Ann Spillane, Pritzker’s general counsel, in committee testimony earlier this month. “We’re not meeting 20 days. We haven’t for a long time.”
State officials estimate there are currently more than 200 individuals in county jails who have been awaiting transfer to a state mental hospital for 60 days or more.
Spillane said DHS is working to expand the number of mental hospital beds in the state, but there has been a “tremendous increase” in the past year in the number of people found unfit to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity.
But county sheriffs, who oversee county jails, argued they have staffing shortages too, and that they are not equipped to house and treat people with severe mental illnesses.
Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, said the problem is especially severe in southern Illinois where there is a shortage of community-based mental health services to begin with. He pointed to ongoing litigation filed by a number of state’s attorneys over DHS’ failure to promptly take people into its custody out of county jails.
“We certainly understand the dilemma that the Department of Human Service has in terms of getting those staff,” he said. “The problem is, at the local level, we have that same problem. So, we’re not able to maintain the level of staffing and the number of people and the beds that we need within our county jails.”
He also said many counties lack community services to provide treatment to the individuals.
During House debate earlier this month, now-retired House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said he understood the concerns of county sheriffs, but said the rest of the bill was too important to be held up by that issue.
“Don’t let this provision kill or change your position or change your vote on this,” he said. “It’s a really good bill.”
Durkin suggested lawmakers should continue to negotiate that specific issue in the new General Assembly which began January 11.
Other lawmakers had similar issues with a provision giving nursing homes two more years – until 2025 – to come into compliance with minimum staffing requirements before facing fines from the Department of Public Health.
Illinois has some of the most understaffed nursing homes in the country, and last year lawmakers passed a sweeping overhaul of the way they are reimbursed through Medicaid that included as much as $700 million per year in incentive payments to increase their staff and raise wages for nursing home workers.
But nursing home industry lobbyists said many facilities are still reeling from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and that statewide, employment in nursing homes is still below pre-pandemic levels.
“Pandemic exhaustion has led to the resignation of thousands of nursing home employees and strained the long-term care labor market,” Ron Nunziato, director of policy and regulatory affairs at the Health Care Council of Illinois, said in a statement.
He said nursing homes are facing the same hiring obstacles as the rest of the health care industry.
“The pipeline for workforce development is slow in many areas of the state and it will take years for nursing homes to recover from staffing challenges,” Nunziato said.
Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, a former nursing home worker, spoke against that provision on the floor of the House, but at the same time said her objections to it weren’t enough to reject the whole bill.
“I am not going to sink the ship on this because these other measures are very important,” she said. “But as a former nursing home worker, I would be remiss to not speak about the importance of short staffing and the provision in the bill about holding off for another two years around the penalties.”
The bill passed the Senate on Jan. 6 by a 32-15 margin. It passed the House Jan. 10, 85-24.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
Local Three-Year-Old Wins Bike in Great Bike Giveaway
Spread the loveBy Karen Haave Dixie Barclay is a sunny, happy three-year-old, who likes to sing and dance, and she’s always smiling. Born with Spina Bifida, she has been through a lot in her short life, including enduring 12 surgeries, and uses a wheelchair to get around. Her mom, Jessica, says she is very outgoing…
Haas to Hold Traveling Office Hours in Park Forest, Monee
Spread the loveIn an effort to ensure every 79th District community has access to her office, House Assistant Minority Leader Jackie Haas will continue hosting satellite office hours in the northern part of her district in Monee, in addition to monthly traveling office hours in Park Forest. While Leader Haas’ main district office is in…
Monee Village Board Approves Pay Hikes
Spread the loveBy Karen Haave The Monee Board of Trustees has approved three percent pay raises for village staff, effective May 1. The building services manager, park director, Department of Public Works superintendent, human resources director, front office supervisor, DPW executive assistant, building services supervisor, IT manager, and deputy chief of police all will get…
Fire Buddies Spreads Cheer
Spread the loveBy Karen Haave In December 2016, a young child battling cancer fell ill with a high fever. A group of Oak Forest Firefighters answered the 911 call, transporting the child to the hospital for life-saving treatment. The experience was heartbreaking for them, and inspired them to want to do more. With support from…
French Heritage Museum Season Re-Opening April 1
Spread the loveJoin us on Saturday, April 1, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., for this season’s re-opening of the French Heritage Museum at the Stone Barn, 165 N. Indiana Avenue, Kankakee! From 10 a.m. to noon, patrons can purchase a cup of coffee, from Brew Head Espresso, to enjoy while browsing the museum. Join…
County Pop-Up Clinic Vaccinates 250+ Dogs and Cats
Spread the loveFree clinic provided vaccines, microchips, and food for Will County pets. Will County hosted a pop-up pet clinic at the County Office Building on March 11, which vaccinated and microchipped more than 250 local cats and dogs. The event was hosted by Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow, the K9…
Genealogical Society Presents ‘They Lived Where?’ at KPL
Spread the loveThe Kankakee Valley Genealogical Society will host Laura Kovarik at its next meeting, Saturday, April 1, at 10:30 a.m., at the Kankakee Public Library, 201 E. Merchant Street. Kovarik will present the program “They Lived Where? Tips for Researching Locations.” Location research shows the details surrounding a family, giving context and understanding to…
Answering Questions Concerning Mental Health Sales Tax on Ballot
Spread the loveKankakee County residents have an opportunity to vote on a sales tax referendum at the April 4 General Election. Voters will decide if they are willing to adopt a ¼ cent sales tax to create local, long-term solutions to address chronic gaps in the mental health system of care. Several objections and questions…
Letter to Ed.: Deutsche
Spread the loveDear Editor: It is my honor to recommend Jeanine Galbraith for re-election as the District 4 CM201-U School Board member. Jeanine has lived in Crete for 31 years with her husband, Bill, of 37 years. Mrs. Galbraith is retired from the Chicago Tribune after 40 years of service. Jeanine is an active member…
Letter to Ed.: Patton
Spread the loveDear Editor: I had the privilege of serving as the interim superintendent in Crete-Monee District 201U on two occasions for a year. On both occasions, Mrs. Jeanine Galbraith served on the board of education, and I had numerous to interact with her and witness her commitment to the district and the students it…
Beecher School Board Candidate: Todd Gregory
Spread the loveI decided to go to my first School board meeting during covid when I thought the decision were hurting the kids. I thought I could have conversation and rationally explain, and they would make changes. But the Government system was in place and the following months and years things did not get better.…
School Board Approves Cameras at High School
Spread the loveBy Andrea Arens The March 13 board meeting included the approval of an expense parents will appreciate: security cameras. In the past few years, there have been several shooting threats at Peotone High School, and the high school was not equipped with cameras. A grandparent attended last month’s board meeting to plead the…
Spread the lovePeotone Park District is hosting a free Easter Egg Hunt at Peotone Community Park on Saturday April 1st at 10 a.m. Participants need to bring their own egg receptacle. Free pictures with the Easter Bunny. Find the golden egg and win a prize. The Greater Peotone Clergy Association will host Ecumenical Stations of…
Manteno/Bourbonnais Easter Egg Dashes
Spread the loveJoin the Village of Manteno for its annual Easter Egg Dash at Heritage Park, 500 W. Cook Street. Take pictures with the bunny starting at 10 a.m., with the Dash beginning at 11 a.m. There will be three age zones, including: Pre-K and younger, first and second grades, plus third and fourth grades.…
Beecher Community Library News
Spread the loveCall the library at 708-946-9090 for programs that require registration. The library will be closed for Easter on Friday, April 7. Youth Services A new umbrella take-and-make craft is available for pick up in April. Pick up any time. March 30, 31, and April 6, at 10 a.m., Beecher Bookworm Buddies: Enjoy stories,…