Aug 26, 2021

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Signs Mental Health Legislation Press Conference Transcript

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Signs Mental Health Legislation Press Conference Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsIllinois Governor J.B. Pritzker TranscriptsIllinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Signs Mental Health Legislation Press Conference Transcript

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation expanding access to mental health care services on August 26, 2021. Read the transcript of the press conference speech here.

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Governor Pritzker: (00:12)
Well, good morning. Good afternoon, everyone. Joining me here today are sponsors and advocates who championed these bills. I want to express my gratitude to Senator Laura Fine and to Senator Robert Peters, to Representative Kelly Cassidy, also Representative Deb Conroy, who could not join us today. And of course, David Applegate with the Kennedy Forum and Candace Coleman with Access Living for their leadership and advocacy as we take critical strides toward improving mental health care in the state of Illinois.

Governor Pritzker: (00:49)
Those with mental health challenges should not be relegated to living in the shadows. And that’s why as governor, I’ve sought to reshape a state where policies match those values. And just as importantly, along with our legislature, where policies give families the resources that they need to build better lives. When I came into office, our state had fallen far below national averages for community-based mental health treatment spending. So my budgets have reflected double digit increases in funding for mental health services and for addiction treatment, unprecedented increases in recent state history and we’re not done.

Governor Pritzker: (01:36)
I’m so proud of the steps that we’ve taken to expand access to mental health care just in recent weeks alone, including expanding comprehensive mental health resources for first responders and making sure life-saving crisis hotlines are printed on the back of student IDs so that young people know how they can reach out and get help.

Governor Pritzker: (02:01)
Of course we can, and we must do more. And the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated that urgency, with over half of Illinoisans reporting a decline in mental wellness over the past year. These hardships have touched everyone. From students, struggling with separation from their classmates, to first responders on the front lines confronting the life-threatening pandemic. From parents, balancing work and family, to seniors, isolated from their loved ones, but make no mistake. Despite the fact that mental health challenges touch so many of us, the healthcare system doesn’t treat all of us the same.

Governor Pritzker: (02:50)
Today, I’m very proud and inspired to be a part of making bold changes to our mental health care services in Illinois, that will help all Illinoisans receive the essential services and care that they need, no matter where they live, no matter their socioeconomic status. The legislation that I’m signing here makes Illinois the third state in the nation to require insurance to cover substance use and mental disorders. This is a sea change that will not only help Illinoisans get the care that they need, but will reaffirm our commitment to the basic principle that just like physical health, mental health care is essential, not optional. We’re taking this nation leading step while laying the groundwork for yet another. Next summer, when the National 988 hotline will be made available to anyone in the US with a mental health emergency, Illinois will be one of the first states in the nation to mandate full coordination with this vital new resource. As it stands, a 9-11 call about a mental health crisis deploys law enforcement, not mental health professionals. It’s an inefficient and costly use of community resources that puts lives at risk and first responders under increased stress. It sometimes leads to the use of excessive force and restraint against people and individuals who may simply need emergency counseling. And tragically as the Watts family here today with us knows all too well, it’s a response that can become devastatingly fatal.

Governor Pritzker: (04:42)
The Community Emergency Services and Support Act, also known as the Stefan Edwards Watts Act requires all Illinois municipalities to coordinate 911 and 988 services with the goal of prioritizing community care over incarceration or improper use of force when it comes to mental or behavioral health emergencies. In other words, it mandates compassion. And I’m very proud that I get to sign this into law today. In the state of Illinois, mental health care should not and cannot be treated as a supplementary or optional service. It’s medically necessary. It’s lifesaving, and it can help address the systemic trauma that has held many communities back for far too long. Mental health care is healthcare. That’s a vital component of a truly equitable and compassionate health system. Something that Illinois is now one step closer to building.

Governor Pritzker: (05:48)
Thank you. And with that, I’d like to turn it over proudly to one of the great leaders in Springfield and a partner in so many of the good things we’ve been to accomplish. And that’s Senator Laura Fine. Senator?

Senator Laura Fine: (06:09)
Thank you, Governor Pritzker, and thank you everybody for being here today. I am just so thrilled that in Illinois, we are putting mental health on the forefront. When Governor Pritzker signs HB2595 into law today, this law will create positive outcomes for so many families in the state of Illinois. It is so important that we sign this legislation because what we’ll do is it will show that in Illinois, we are working to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Senator Laura Fine: (06:45)
With committees in both chambers, the House and the Senate now focusing on mental health, we are supporting all of our friends and loved ones because no family escapes mental illness. This new law will increase access to mental health and addiction treatment for Illinoisans at a moment when the need is at its greatest. The legislation would not be possible, but without the support from all of my colleagues in the general assembly, especially as Governor Pritzker mentioned, my House colleague, State Representative Deb Conroy, who, although she could not be here today, she has been my tireless partner in advocating for the rights of people with mental illness and substance use disorders.

Senator Laura Fine: (07:29)
I also want to thank the advocates who pushed so hard to make this bill a reality, particularly the Kennedy Forum, Inseparable, and the entire Health is Health coalition. Illinois is at a critical juncture. We are facing two public health crisis is right now, COVID-19 and an ongoing mental health and addiction crisis that has made worse this pandemic. I’ve seen and heard firsthand from so many of my constituents about the challenges that they are facing and that they have an increased need for care. However-

Senator Laura Fine: (08:03)
[inaudible 00:08:00], and that they have an increased need for care. However, too often we’ve seen that when people try to access treatment, they are wrongfully denied care because their health plan will not tell them it is medically necessary in order for them to receive that care. Rather than covering treatment that people need to treat their underlying conditions, mental health or substance use disorders, they lead to long-term care recovery. So instead of getting it in the short term, we wait until we’ve reached crisis in order to address these issues. This legislation will stop that. And we will make sure that we head off this disease at an earlier time than waiting until we are in crisis.

Senator Laura Fine: (08:46)
This puts strong standards on the guidance when it comes to covering medical necessary treatment for people with mental health. Like we discussed when we were passing this legislation, if your doctor told you that you have cancer and you need to receive eight treatments for chemotherapy, your insurance company would cover those eight treatments. So why should it be any different for mental health?

Senator Laura Fine: (09:10)
So with that, I am just so proud of our state and our general assembly for really taking mental health and bringing it to the forefront, and allowing us to help the people in the state of Illinois. So thank you.

Kelly Cassidy: (09:31)
Good afternoon. I am Kelly Cassidy, State Representative of the 14th district, and I’m a little overcome today by what we’re accomplishing. And I’m so grateful to my colleagues and to Governor Pritzker for making this possible.

Kelly Cassidy: (09:49)
For far too long, the Watts family, and thank you all for being here today, has sought to ensure that no other family will face the horrific loss they did when Stephon was shot by officers responding to a call for help when he was in crisis. My bottomless gratitude and respect to Renee and Danelene and Charles and Christopher. I thank you.

Kelly Cassidy: (10:19)
Today with Governor Pritzker’s signature, Illinois, once again, leads the nation in enacting the Community Emergency Support Services Act. There are a handful of local jurisdictions that have adopted a mental health first responder model, which means that a 9-1-1 call in a mental health crisis will get a mental health response as opposed to a law enforcement month. But Illinois is the first state to declare that wherever you live in our state, you will get an appropriate response to your call for help.

Kelly Cassidy: (10:54)
Again, my gratitude to the Watts family for turning their anger and grief into meaningful action. For the amazing advocates of Access Living, such incredible partners. For walking this long journey with y’all and turning this horrific circumstance into something that will change lives. And for entrusting us as sponsors for such a critically important piece of legislation. My incredible partner in change, wonder twin Senator Robert Peters. We frequently tag team on these things and I couldn’t be more blessed to have him as a partner. And the incredible number of stakeholders all across the spectrum who came to the table to make this bill better, to acknowledge that we are laying a blueprint for the rest of the country to follow. And I am so proud that Governor Pritzker believes that that’s who our state should be, that we should be leading. And I am just eternally grateful to everyone.

Kelly Cassidy: (12:03)
With that, wonder twin, Senator Robert Peters. I got to mess with you every time.

Robert Peters: (12:12)
Thank you. Wonder twin. Thank you, Governor Pritzker, and especially thank you to the amazing, powerful house sponsor and wonder twin, Rep Cassidy. Illinois is going to be the first state in the country to mandate a mental and behavioral health emergency response system. This didn’t just happen in a vacuum. It happened because people like the Watts family were sick and tired of the trauma and pain being criminalized.

Robert Peters: (12:47)
I remember when I was a kid and my White adopted mother who struggled to accept her own serious mental health and addiction needs called 9-1-1 and weaponized the police on me to force me to take Ritalin. It was extremely frightening and traumatic, and is something that I may never leave behind. And I want to thank the persistence of the Watts family. Stephon, like so many others, was in need of a mental health professional who could see his humanity, recognize his needs, and then properly deescalate the situation. What he didn’t need was the bullet he faced.

Robert Peters: (13:24)
The signing of this law won’t bring back Stephon Watts, and he should still be with us today. But I hope you know that you and so many others have made history happen today.

Robert Peters: (13:34)
I want to thank Candace Coleman and Access Living and the broader disability justice movement. You centered this around disability power, and have shown that the disability justice movement is at the intersections of race, class, and gender. You organized leaders who were determined to see this through. As someone who has struggled with my identity and disabilities, you not only helped others find their voice, but you helped me find mine too. I’m so grateful that you asked me to be the Senate sponsor, and grateful to be in this fight with you.

Robert Peters: (14:06)
As all of us come out of this pandemic, as millions traumatically saw a police officer put his knee on the neck of George Floyd, as millions struggled to find housing, people will react to these traumas in painful ways. As these crises pile up now more than ever, we need to understand that public safety for all requires a humane and compassionate approach to trauma. Public safety for all requires mental health first responders. We can not handcuff our way out of trauma.

Robert Peters: (14:38)
Illinois is leading the country on moving us forward with public safety, an agenda that puts working people first. This work, the struggle is ongoing, but one we should be proud of. We should be proud Illinois is leading after so many years, after a previous governor, previous governors, that we are leading, and the rest of the country should follow through. So thank you to the Governor and to the advocate.s and next up, David Applegate.

David Applegate: (15:14)
Good afternoon, everyone. My name is David Applegate. I’m the Director of state policy with the Kennedy Forum, Illinois. Thank you to Governor Pritzker for signing this important piece of legislation today. Your leadership will ensure that Illinoisans with mental health and substance use disorders are able to access the care they need and are protected against wrongful coverage of denials by their health plan.

David Applegate: (15:34)
I would also like to thank all the legislators in the Illinois General Assembly, who so fervently supported this bill in the spring, particularly the bill’s nearly 70 co-sponsors, which included Senator Peters and Representative Cassidy, and most especially State Representative Deb Conroy and State Senator Laura Fine, who are not only the chief sponsors of HB2595, but who have consistently been steadfast leaders, and determined and relentless champions for Illinoisans with mental health and substance use disorders. Lastly, a special thank you to inseparable-

David Applegate: (16:03)
… abuse disorders. Lastly, a special thank you to Inseparable, particularly Dave Horwitz and Jen Lee and also Dave Lewiski from Heartland Alliance, and really all the community organizations, healthcare providers, and advocates from every corner of Illinois who ardently pushed for HB2595 to become law. This legislation represents another important step toward ending discrimination against people with mental health and substance use disorders. It protects patients by ensuring health plans cover medically necessary mental health and addiction treatment and holds them accountable for following nationally recognized clinical standards of care in their coverage determinations.

David Applegate: (16:36)
We are in a crisis and the need for mental health and addiction treatment is higher than ever before, making these reforms in HB2595 that much more important. So thank you again, Governor Pritzker and members of the Illinois General Assembly. Because of you Illinois demonstrates once again why it is a national leader in protecting rights of people with mental health and substance use disorders and increasing access to care at a critical moment for our state and our country. Thank you. And with that, Candice.

Candice Coleman: (17:12)
Good afternoon. My name is Candice Coleman and I’m a community organizer at Access Living. Today’s historical, today CESSA becomes law. Today, we start to break down barriers to healthcare. Today, the people who are behind me, the parents, people with disabilities, the advocates, the folks who’ve lived through trauma with getting healthcare gets justice. Right now in Illinois, if you need help physically, you call nine 11 and the ambulance comes to you. But if you have a mental health crisis, the police are sent with an ambulance instead, and they can escalate things rather than help as you’ve heard many times today.

Candice Coleman: (17:59)
Today, we begin to change that. During an emergency, people with mental and behavioral health disabilities can easily be misunderstood. We’ve seen how that can end tragically with police killings and unnecessary lockups. Police trainings as it stands simply doesn’t have the capacity to handle the crisis needs of people with disabilities. The Community Emergency Services and Supports Act or CESSA requires 9-11 to refer call seeking mental and behavioral health support to a new state service instead of police.

Candice Coleman: (18:33)
This is the kind of support people like Stefan Watts and the others who die or experience unnecessary trauma in the midst of crisis needed, but did not receive. Advocates at Access Livings advanced your leadership power as well as our community and coalition partners have been driving the CESSA bill for six years. Access Living, I and people with disabilities around the state would like to thank the unrelenting commitment to this legislation, acknowledging Senator Peters, Representative Cassidy, as well as Governor Pritzker. Without you, we could not have done this. Thank you, Governor Pritzker for signing this bill into law today and for your continued commitment to supporting people with disabilities.

Candice Coleman: (19:19)
Thank you, Senator Peters. Thank you, Representative Cassidy. Because of you and your relentless commitment, we’ve really been able to shed light to this issue and we’ve really been able to change the way the system functions. Our work here isn’t done though. Now, we need to ensure successful implementation of CESSA and make sure that when someone in a behavioral or mental health crisis and call, they can call 9-11 and get the appropriate care they need. Again, thank you to the Watt’s family and let’s get to work. Governor Pritzker, would you please join me in signing these historical bills?

Governor Pritzker: (19:58)
Of course. Thank you.

Governor Pritzker: (20:06)

Governor Pritzker: (21:20)
Excellent. I’m happy to take any questions from members of the media, and then maybe after we can get some pictures together, masks on with the bills in place. Yer, sir.

Speaker 1: (21:34)
How long will it take for the agencies that have to respond to those 9-11 calls to have the resources and the personnel to actually make the response [inaudible 00:21:47]?

Governor Pritzker: (21:49)
We’re beginning that work right away. And then of course, the kind of merger of the 988 and 911 systems will be fully implemented after June 30 or July 1st of 2022. So that’s the goal here is obviously to be on the same time table the federal system is, but for us to be up and running completely aligned 911, 988, as of the end of this fiscal year. You want to add to that Robert?

Robert Peters: (22:21)
And the technical effective date is to make this January 1st, 2023. So not only you have the 911, 988 ramp up that needs to happen at the same time to make sure that we’re doing everything that we need to do, having that sort of delayed effective date so that we have counties of different size and scale throughout the state, and to make sure that they have the ability to ramp up. But I will say, as you know the City of Chicago, clearly a large part of the state seems to be able to have a quicker timeline to be able to ramp up. But no matter what I feel hopeful over the next 16, 15 months. My ability to count here is being questioned on camera and a little difficult, that we’ll be able to have that ramp up time.

Speaker 1: (23:03)
What do you want to see happen, because obviously the service is needed now? What kind of things do you want to see the local governments, the local agencies do now while we’re ramping up?

Robert Peters: (23:17)
I would just add just hopefully we don’t have more stories like Stefan Watt. I mean, at the end of the day, people shared when they’re going through a mental health or behavioral traumatic event, know that they’re going to be treated with humanity and safety and compassion. And at the end of the day, to think about this lot landmark, but in it, you kind of wish it wasn’t landmark because you wished this was the norm. So hopefully moving forward, that’s what we see as the norm. Yeah.

Governor Pritzker: (23:49)

Kelly Cassidy: (23:53)
We’re seeing around the state lots of jurisdictions experimenting with various approaches. Chicago, there was a story today about Chicago’s two track pilot project where-

Kelly Cassidy: (24:03)
About Chicago’s two-track pilot project where they’re doing a co-responder model and a First Responder model. The hope is, frankly, that those pilot projects will get stepped up. They’re already in process around the state, but to shift directly to the First Responder model, as the state law will ultimately require, is what we’d like to see.

Speaker 2: (24:25)
[inaudible 00:24:25]?

Governor Pritzker: (24:31)
No, [inaudible 00:24:32]

Kelly Cassidy: (24:32)
That’s a different bill.

Governor Pritzker: (24:34)

Eric: (24:38)
Kind of off topic [crosstalk 00:24:41].

Governor Pritzker: (24:41)
Sure, yeah, Eric.

Eric: (24:44)
With City of Chicago and the county both mandating vaccines for employees, are you any closer to any kind of vaccine mandate [inaudible 00:24:49]?

Governor Pritzker: (24:50)
Well, I want to remind you, we already have been pursuing that with regard to all of our most vulnerable patients, most vulnerable people that are under the care of the state of Illinois. So whether it’s in our veterans homes, or it’s in our developmentally disabled facilities or others, we basically have been working for several weeks with the unions to talk to them about how we might be able to implement that as of October 4th and that those are ongoing conversations.

Speaker 3: (25:23)
But most of the unions don’t want a vaccine mandate, and there is an election coming up, so is that playing a part in it because Illinoians, a lot or have said that there’s not a vaccine mandate for state employees. You said that should be decided on a local level, but yet you’re mandating masks for schools across the state of Illinois?

Governor Pritzker: (25:42)
No. That’s inaccurate. So let’s start with the fact that we’re working with the state employee unions in fact, to implement some kind of vaccine mandate. So, that I just was talking about moments ago, and we’re going to continue to encourage people to get vaccinated. I also am firmly of the belief that local governments should pursue, as they believe appropriate, getting vaccines into the arms of the people who work in their local or county governments. And we’re going to continue to look at what we need to do at the state level to expand either mask mandates or vaccine mandates. Again, based upon the need to lower the pressure on our hospitals. We now have in Southern Illinois, almost no ICU beds available, and there are three in Region Five. There are also three other regions of the state; Three, Four, and Six, where there are a minimal number of ICU beds that remain, and they’re moving personnel around to try to deal with that. We also, at the state level, have provided personnel specifically to Southern Illinois, because a lot of when you read about the number of beds that are available in a facility, it’s really about how much staffing is available, it’s not so much about the space that they have in their hospital, it’s do they have the nursing staff and other support staff?

Speaker 4: (27:17)
So, the state is in negotiations with the unions for a vaccine mandate for all state workers or just a subset of workers?

Governor Pritzker: (27:25)
No, we’ve begun with, when you say, “A subset,” these are the most vulnerable situations where we have staff that are dealing directly, day-to-day, with people who really have no choice, but to be in those facilities, and in very close, direct contact with staff. And so, again, we’re continuing to try to get everybody vaccinated across the state, including state workers. And as I said, a lot of the decisions that we’ve had to make about increasing our mitigations have been about making sure that we’re keeping everybody across the state safe, but especially making sure that our hospitals are not overrun.

Speaker 4: (28:03)
Yeah, there are some business owners who are vaccinated, their staff is vaccinated, they may even require some of their patrons who come into their establishment to be vaccinated, and they hear your warning about mitigations, and how that might impact their business, they’d rather see some sort of action on broader vaccine mandate as opposed to mitigations, Is that something that you [inaudible 00:28:25]-

Governor Pritzker: (28:26)
We continue to look at all the options that are available to us, again, to deal with the rise of this Delta variant, which is a much more dangerous variant because of the speed with which it transmits. And so, we’re going to continue to look at that, and I’ve talked about the menu of options that are available to us, and we’re going to look and implement those as needed.

Amy: (28:48)
I wanted to ask you about that menu of options of mitigations that you mentioned yesterday; our school closings part of that? Are school closings on that list of options? Because if so, that would be talking about mental health issues, that’s not what parents want to hear, and kids want to hear.

Governor Pritzker: (29:04)

Amy: (29:04)
And so, that’s not on the list?

Governor Pritzker: (29:08)
Well, as you know, if all of a sudden we started to see that there was a widespread Delta, or something that was overcoming, for example, the vaccines that people have already taken, and sending people to the hospital who are already vaccinated, then we would have to look at a whole new set, at the bottom of the list, the things that we left far in the distance last year, we might have to revisit those things. But that’s not something that I would say is currently highlighted on that menu.

Kelly Cassidy: (29:44)
We’ll do one more.

Amy: (29:45)
You had a protest out here this morning, and parents were crying, screaming, “Oh my God,” as Governor, you should try and calm people’s nerves maybe, or can you? Because there are low risk group students are-

Kelly Cassidy: (29:56)
Amy, as a supposed reporter, you should probably stop the misinformation. We are done here. Thank you.

Governor Pritzker: (30:01)
Thank you.

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