Illinois’ “Omnibus” health care bill passed amid criticism

SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) — A law recently signed by Governor JB Pritzker will extend the time frame within which the state can transfer defendants found to be mentally incompetent for trial from prison to a mental hospital.

The same bill, House Bill 240, gives Illinois nursing homes two more years to meet minimum staffing levels implemented in 2022 before being fined by the Department of Public Health.

These are just two parts of a 67-page “omnibus” health care bill approved by the General Assembly on the last day of its recent lame duck session.

And even as parts of the bill received criticism, many lawmakers who opposed those elements said they felt compelled to vote anyway because other parts of the bill were too important. These necessary arrangements included allowing some rural hospitals to tap into more federal funds, distributing federal disaster relief to ambulance services impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and extending the deadline for a closed hospital to reopen in the western suburbs of Chicago under new ownership.

“I think there are some major 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,” the then Representative said. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, during a committee hearing on the bill.

Bourne unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2022, forgoing the opportunity for a fifth term in the House.

Prolonged stays in prison

Previous standards set in Illinois law set a 20-day time limit for the Department of Human Services to assume custody of a felony defendant found to be incompetent to stand trial or pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. DHS would then be required to place them in a mental institution.

The new law extends the period in which a defendant can be in prison to 60 days. And, if DHS is unable to place you in a facility within that time period, it can ask the court for 30-day extensions until a space is available.

Pritzker administration officials testified that DHS is often unable to do this, either because the agency does not receive court notice that a defendant needs to be transferred or because there simply aren’t enough beds available in Illinois. seven state psychiatric institutions.

“I think it was really just an attempt to try and be realistic,” Ann Spillane, Pritzker’s general counsel, said in committee testimony earlier this month. “We haven’t met for 20 days. We haven’t done that for a long time.

State officials estimate that there are currently more than 200 people 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 psychiatric hospital beds in the state, but there has been a “huge increase” in the last year in the number of people found unfit to stand trial or not guilty to cause of madness.

But county sheriffs, who oversee the county’s jails, said they, too, are understaffed and ill-equipped to house and treat people with serious mental illnesses.

Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs Association, said the problem is particularly severe in southern Illinois, where there is a shortage of community-based mental health services to begin with. He pointed to ongoing litigation by a number of state attorneys over DHS’s failure to promptly take people into custody outside county jails.

“We certainly understand the dilemma the Department of Human Services has in terms of getting those personnel,” he said. “The problem is that, locally, we have the same problem. Therefore, we are unable to maintain the level of staffing, number of people and beds that we need in our county jails”.

He also said that many counties lack community services to provide care for people.

During the House debate earlier this month, now-retired House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said he understood the county sheriffs’ concerns, but said the rest of the bill was too important to be hampered by this issue.

“Don’t let this provision kill or change your position or change your vote on this,” he said. “It’s a really good account.”

Durkin suggested lawmakers should continue negotiating that specific issue in the new General Assembly that began on Jan. 11.

Nursing homes

Other lawmakers had similar problems with a provision that gave nursing homes two more years — until 2025 — to comply with minimum staffing requirements before incurring fines from the Department of Public Health.

Illinois has some of the shortest staffed nursing homes in the country, and lawmakers last year passed a major overhaul of how they’re reimbursed through Medicaid that included up to $700 million a year in nursing payments. incentives to increase its staff and raise wages for nursing home workers.

But nursing home industry lobbyists said many facilities were still reeling from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and that statewide employment in nursing homes was still below pre-emptive levels. pandemic.

“The pandemic exhaustion has led to the resignation of thousands of nursing home employees and has strained the long-term care job market,” Ron Nunziato, director of policy and regulatory affairs, said in a statement. at the Illinois Health Board.

He said nursing homes are facing the same hiring hurdles as the rest of the healthcare sector.

“The workforce development pipeline 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 out against that provision in the floor, but at the same time said her objections weren’t enough to reject the entire bill.

“I’m not going to sink the ship on this one because these other measures are very important,” he said. “But as a former nursing home worker, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of the staff shortage and the provision in the bill to suspend penalties for another two years.”

The bill passed the Senate on Jan. 6 by a margin of 32 to 15 votes. It passed the House on Jan. 10, 85-24.

Capitol News Illinois is a non-profit, non-partisan news service covering the state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and television stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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