July 31, 2008

Budget Cuts Hurt Local Drug Treatment

By Jennifer Bailey, Commercial-News, Danville, Ill.

Jul. 31--DANVILLE -- In light of state budget cuts, at least 21 employees will lose their jobs at Prairie Center Health Systems Inc., and client services for those in the Danville area also will be cut back.

This includes the elimination of the detoxification unit in Champaign.

Officials presented what the cuts will mean to Champaign and Vermilion County communities at a press conference in Urbana on Wednesday.

Prairie Center Chief Executive Officer Bruce Suardini said of the center's 80 staff members, 26 percent will be cut in the first phase of cuts.

Prairie Center and other long-established drug treatment providers officially were notified last week by state officials that their budgets are cut from 30 to 70 percent, effective immediately.

The cuts will severely impact the substance abuse prevention and treatment system.

In a letter from the Illinois Department of Human Services to Suardini, "the current impasse around the passage of new revenue enhancements for the state has necessitated that the administration make funding cuts in order to comply with state law that mandates a balanced budget."

"(The Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse) is faced with the extremely difficult task of implementing $55 million in line item vetoes and reductions," the letter continues.

The IDHS is reducing the agreement with Prairie Center by about $914,200.

This represents 34 percent of the center's annual state grant funding.

The staff cuts total about $604,000.

Danville's Prairie Center facility had some unfilled positions. Suardini was unsure how many staff here will lose their jobs.

Officials also have planned for a second phase of $310,000 in cuts, affecting more staff and services, in the case state officials don't restore any funding.

Cuts generally fell into: 100 percent of case management and community intervention, 30 percent of youth services and 30 percent for detoxification.

This cuts $276,000 for case managers, $354,000 in community intervention, $37,000 in youth services and means complete closure of the detox unit in Champaign.

Referrals can no longer occur and hospitals and other facilities will be impacted, Suardini said.

"We had 803 admissions in detox last year," Suardini said of the medically managed model program.

The detox staff will be phased out, and no one will be taken in the 10-bed program as of Friday.

The medically managed 24-hour/seven days a week operation is overseen by Prairie Center's medical director, a doctor specializing in addiction medicine.

Specially trained registered and licensed practical nurses provide alcohol and drug assessments to determine medical needs, to admit for care and to closely monitor persons withdrawing from heavy use of substances.

The medical director reviews admissions and assessments. Nurses, nutritionists and other specialists provide education and counseling services to each person undergoing detoxification.

Drug, physical and emotional detoxification can take several days, even weeks, for long-term users, according to Prairie Center's Web site.

The next step is entering addiction treatment.

Suardini said also hurting with the cuts is the expected loss of $43 million in matching federal funding given to the state for these prevention services.

He said partnerships Prairie Center depends on, such as with United Way, also are at risk.

Other local impacts will be on drug court.

"I'm really concerned with the employees we lay off," Suardini said.

He's asking for support from other agencies to provide employment for them.

"My immediate concern is (the employees), and then for the clients for detox," he said. "The consequences can be death."

Suardini said with persons going to hospital emergency wards, this takes away from their primary functions.

"We're all trying to manage the best we can," he said about the state budget cuts. "We're all in shock."

Staff is "demoralized," but also must remain professional because they are still managing clients, he said.

Prairie Center Board Vice President Linda Bolton said because the center can't maintain the staffing it has with the state budget cuts, and with the federal money also expected to dry up, "it's going to be a double hit."

"It's a huge impact, and it's people who are trying to turn their lives around," she said.

"We'll try to maintain as many treatment services as we can do," Bolton added.

She said if Prairie Center was to gain back funding, it will be challenging to return the very specialized staff it now has.

Services provided by Prairie Center are partially funded through federal, state and local sources.

Prairie Center Health Systems Inc. has served east-central Illinois for 40 years. It has provided services in Vermilion County for 12 years.

The nonprofit agency provides substance abuse education and treatment services to help people reclaim their lives, and to re-establish their place within families and within their communities.

Annually it serves about 7,000 individuals in Champaign, Ford and Vermilion counties.


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