Community / Social Justice

Illinois Mental Health Workers Need Your Help Now

Aimee Daramus_154x154

Photo by Joseph Coleman

Aimee Daramus, M.A., LPC, is a student in Adler’s Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.) program. She is currently completing her internship at Trinity Services in Joliet, Illinois.

Anyone involved with the care of people with mental illness or developmental disabilities knows that our day-to-day experience can be challenging, particularly for our undervalued colleagues, Direct Service Providers (DSPs). Please support two bills up for votes this week in the Illinois General Assembly that greatly benefit DSPs, our clients, and our field in general.

DSPs provide a range of services, from emotional support to transportation to skills training—even total personal hygiene care. When a client is combative, self-harms, or becomes emotionally dysregulated, DSPs are often the responsible staff member when therapists and administrators are unavailable.

Unfortunately, because DSPs have less education and training than counselors and therapists,  their average hourly pay in Illinois is only $9.35. Some fast-food restaurants pay more—indeed, former and would-be DSPs are taking those jobs in order to earn a livable wage.

The result is that many Illinois agencies are reporting that 25 to 35 percent of their job positions are unfilled, according to Art Dykstra, CEO of Trinity Services, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides services for people with disabilities. With such inadequate staffing, it is increasingly difficult to provide basic care for clients.

Two bills in the Illinois General Assembly could change that, and will be voted on soon. House Bill 3698 and Senate Bill 2604 would provide state funds to agencies serving clients with mental illness and developmental disabilities. Those funds would provide DSPs with an increase in pay over time, to at least $13/hour and potentially $15/hour.

These funds would have tremendous impact on the mental health field. They could improve the mental well-being of employees by reducing financial stress. They would help agencies increase and retain staff, leading directly to better quality care. Agencies spend crucial funds to train DSPs. When these employees leave only a few months later, more funds are wasted on yet another new employee search and training. The proposed hourly pay raise becomes cost-effective if it helps to retain employees.

In addition, when DSPs leave to go work at fast-food restaurants, they are taking jobs that are suitable for many clients. When DSPs remain in their jobs long-term, more community employment is available for clients and helps them be more self-supporting.

Local agencies, including Arc of Illinois and Trinity Services, Inc., are asking for help in supporting HB 3698 and SB 2604. These bills are both up for vote in the first week of April—i.e., right now! Take a few minutes to contact your senator and representative and urge them to support these bills. If passed, there could be an enormous positive effect on the lives of people with mental illness and developmental disabilities.