New loan repayment program looks to bolster Illinois mental health worker numbers
QUINCY (WGEM) - Despite increasing demand for mental health help, those at one local mental health organization say not everyone has the access they need.
Officials at Transitions of Western Illinois said 82 out of 102 Illinois counties are facing a mental health worker shortage but a new state program offering student loan repayment could help make a difference.
The program offers debt repayment for those who have worked for at least one year at a community mental health organization in an underserved area.
Transitions executive director Mark Schmitz said there is a massive need for professionals and it can help smaller organizations like theirs attract people to the area.
“Having this sort of loan forgiveness really sets us in a little bit more equal footing with those that are in the larger health system whose services are supported by commercial insurance more than Medicaid for an example so it really is one way to help us either retain or attract staff that we might not have had otherwise,” Schmitz said.
He said when people need help, they need it immediately. The more professionals they are able to attract, he said the greater access people will have for mental health resources.
Schmitz said this program can be useful for retaining workers as well.
“It’s not probably a surprise that sometimes people aren’t paid the highest wages in behavioral healthcare,” Schmitz said. “And this is one way to where a person could say, ‘I could be really meeting that personal mission of mine to help people but also have a way to not have a debt that’s hanging over my head.’”
He said another benefit to this is those who are either currently in school or wanting to go back to school to either get their masters, or just additional education, this makes it more achievable for them.
The amount people can get paid off depends on their position. Those wanting to check to see if they are eligible should check out the Illinois Student Assistance Commission website.
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