Mental health advocates float 708 board for Wheeling Township
A group of mental health advocates in Wheeling Township is working to create a board that would allocate funds to local agencies providing services for people living with mental health issues, developmental disabilities or substance abuse problems.
Last week, advocates approached the Buffalo Grove village board for its support to place a referendum question on the November ballot seeking to create what is called a 708 board.
The Cook County portion of Buffalo Grove is in Wheeling Township.
If the 708 board is approved by voters in November, Wheeling Township would appoint the board members. The board then would conduct a needs survey, prepare a budget for township approval, submit grant applications and allocate funds to local providers.
Advocates stressed the need for the board, bolstering their case with personal experiences.
"This could be one of the most exciting things that Buffalo Grove is involved in," said Arlen Gould, Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 school board member.
Gould detailed his history as a special-education teacher in Chicago and his work on special education and mental health issues for the state of Illinois.
"The very first thing they asked me to do in that role was to tour Lincoln (a now-closed psychiatric institute) and Dixon (now the Mabley Developmental Center)," he said. "I'll never forget the sight of individuals sitting on the cold floors, rocking, because there were no programs." The goal then was to develop local facilities for people who needed supportive care. "Mental health has been in a state of real decline over the last 50 years, although we're doing somewhat better today," Gould added.
Lorri Grainawi, director of the North-Northwest Suburban Task Force on Supportive Housing for Individuals With Mental Illness, said she became involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness when her youngest son was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 20.
"Growing up, he was witty, charming. He was very bright. He played soccer. He was on the high school math team," Grainawi said. "And all that changed when he developed schizophrenia. It affected all of our family, as well."
After being diagnosed, Grainawi said, her son improved and started taking medication, went back to college and got good grades. But later he stopped taking medication, as so many people diagnosed with schizophrenia do.
"My son died five years ago," Grainawi said. "Schizophrenia didn't kill him, but it put him in the time and place that caused his death. He is the reason I do what I do."
She said a 708 board develops a plan based on a community's needs and would focus solely on Wheeling Township residents.
Grainawi said emergency room visits and calls to Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health in Arlington Heights were up 22% from the previous year. She added that 300 Wheeling Township residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities are on a statewide list of children and adults needing services or supports. In 10 years, 28,000 children will move from receiving special education services to that list.
Another problem that needs addressing is substance abuse.
In 2020, 60 Wheeling Township residents died from opioid overdose. Another 184 residents were treated for nonfatal emergency visits and hospitalizations, Grainawi said.
Advocates said to raise $1.5 million, the cost to the owner of an average-priced home would be $8.55 annually. The maximum cost per $100,000 of home value would be $2.25 monthly or $27.05 yearly. In Hanover Township, residents paid on average $25 to $30 annually toward the 708 board, the group said.
There are benefits to such boards. Their funding helped Bloomingdale Township add social workers to local police departments, allowed McHenry County to offer suicide intervention training for families and professionals, and Hanover Township to provide services to more than 5% of its population in nine months, advocates said.
Buffalo Grove village board members questioned how clients would be prioritized for care if the funding is finite.
"It would really be up to the agencies that are providing the care," Grainawi said. "They're the ones that are going to be evaluating the individuals. They have multiple sources of funding."