Change Begins Here

A new collaborative effort promises to transform behavioral healthcare delivery in central Illinois.

by Debbie Simon, UnityPlace
UnityPlace Board Members
UnityPlace board members: Dr. Matthew McMillin, Rick Swan, Dave Mingus, Martha Herm, Terry Carmichael and Peter Johnsen, PhD

Perhaps you’ve seen posts on social media detailing struggles with mental illness or addiction. I’m seeing more and more of them lately. The posts are honest and their authors often brave, vulnerable and looking for support. They describe to the world personal struggles, fear of judgment, thoughts of suicide or stories of attempts, and treatment experiences. I’ve also noticed the desire to share their journeys to shed light on the positive connection points that helped them walk a brighter path. They describe these connections as meaningful, accessible and critically important in promoting a healthy path to change and healing. 

When we announced the formation of UnityPlace earlier this year, the leaders and board members of our partner organizations—Human Service Center, Tazwood Center for Wellness and UnityPoint Health—knew that together, we could create stronger connections that will transform behavioral healthcare delivery in central Illinois.

We have since received an outpouring of support from individuals, families, community organizations and employers—all of whom recognize this great need in our community. They express gratitude for UnityPoint Health taking the lead to address the challenges faced by every behavioral healthcare delivery system in the nation, including gaps in care, limited funding and resources, lack of care coordination and provider shortages. I believe I speak for every member of the UnityPlace family when I express how much we appreciate the overwhelming support. We will need that support as we work to create the change necessary to meet our community’s behavioral healthcare needs. 

A Sense of Urgency
The field of behavioral healthcare is changing at an accelerated rate, and we must act now. More people in our community are reaching out for help, and we must move fast to redesign our model of care to better serve their needs. Our early goals are to increase the availability of services and ways to access them, boost the capacity of mental health and substance use treatment services, and improve continuity in the continuum of services. We’re also working on ways to improve the overall experience so people can receive care that’s personal and convenient for them and their loved ones. UnityPlace is currently working through integration activities that will unite us under one brand, working to benefit those who have always been at the center of what we do: the people we care for.

We must continue working together to create a strategic roadmap that will help us realize our goals and vision. Our vision includes creating a comprehensive community- and hospital-based system of behavioral health, integrating inpatient and outpatient services, and utilizing active, population-focused health management strategies. To achieve these objectives, we must leverage the strength of the UnityPoint Health system of care and the solid foundations underlying Tazwood Center for Wellness, Human Service Center and UnityPoint Health’s Behavioral Health Services. Our collective histories date back to 1954. Our commitment to the people and communities we serve has never wavered. 

Plans to Deliver
Today, we are more confident than ever in our ability to deliver on these goals, and we know it will take time. We are working diligently in these early months of operation to improve access through provider recruitment, the use of technology, centralized scheduling and other available tools. The UnityPlace Board of Directors is busy championing these changes and others which are necessary to meet the needs of our community and beyond. The board is comprised of three members from each of our partner organizations, all bringing innovative ideas and years of experience to the table. We appreciate the commitment, passion and vision this board has made evident very early in its formation. We also recognize the role other community partnerships will play in the transformation of behavioral healthcare. We know that partners, both formal and informal, will be key to delivering services across a broad geography and to unique populations.

There is a clear urgency to behavioral healthcare; people need to be seen by a qualified professional quickly. To optimize their well-being, we must begin by expanding access, utilizing best practices and care models, and ensuring continuity of care. We want the people we serve to experience behavioral healthcare in a different and better way. This involves bringing our three organizations together to create a single team that can deliver comprehensive, convenient services in a culture that promotes unity and champions excellence. We look forward to working with others who are interested in the same vision. 

After more than 40 years in healthcare, I continue to draw inspiration from many places, but none more than the people of this community. There is great strength in the people of central Illinois, and I’m inspired by their stories and passion. As healthcare providers, we must do better. With UnityPlace, I know we will do better—that change is coming. When I look at social media and speak with community members, I realize how many people experience behavioral health challenges. We want them to know they’re not alone. This community deserves UnityPlace, and we plan to deliver. Because change really does begin here. PM

Debbie Simon is the interim president of UnityPlace.

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