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Sinnissippi Centers continues to offer services in spite of the lack of a state budget

Sinnissippi Centers' Mount Carroll location, one of five offices in Dixon, Sterling, Oregon, and Rochelle that serve the four counties of Carroll, Lee, Ogle and Whiteside. (PA photo/Tony Carton)
Sinnissippi Centers' Mount Carroll location, one of five offices in Dixon, Sterling, Oregon, and Rochelle that serve the four counties of Carroll, Lee, Ogle and Whiteside. (PA photo/Tony Carton)

MOUNT CARROLL — Since 1966, Sinnissippi Centers has provided quality, coordinated and responsive care to individuals, families and communities in Carroll, Lee, Ogle and Whiteside Counties, with offices in Dixon, Sterling, Oregon, Rochelle, and Mount Carroll, as well as through designated schools, medical facilities, and work sites in the four county area, and at four supervised living apartment sites.

But is facing difficulty because of the ongoing Illinois budget crisis.

Pay Now Illinois, a coalition of 64 Illinois-based human and social service agencies and companies including Sinnissippi Centers, sued Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and the directors of six statewide agencies in May, seeking immediate payment, in full, of more than $100 million owed for work performed under contracts that date back to July 1, 2015, the beginning of the state’s current fiscal year.

In a detailed timeline of activities surrounding the Illinois budget approval process, the suit makes the case that funds were appropriated to pay the contracts, but the governor’s action to veto appropriation bills blocked payment to service providers who had signed contracts.

“We’ve had a tough year,” said Sinnissippi President and CEO Patrick Phelan. “We lost two very critical grants last year in July. With the non-budget that was implemented in 2015, we lost about a $350,000 grant that supported psychiatric services, and then a little over $200,000 that supported folks who are uninsured receiving therapy services.”

The centers also have just over $1.2 million in grants they still haven’t received.

“We have not been in any immediate danger over the last year,” said Phelan. “Several of our partner organizations around the state have had to close and there are others that have really struggled. It’s been a year of watching our pennies and saving every place we could, but we still maintain a bit of cash in the bank.”

It appear that with implementation of the stop-gap budget Sinnissippi will begin to receive a portion of the outstanding $1.2 million owed.

“We don’t know if that will be 60 percent or 80 or 100 percent,” Phelan said. “We are awaiting the details, but with that influx of cash it’s going to keep us pretty viable for the near future, and by the near future I mean through the next fiscal year. Of course, we would like to see 100 percent of those grants come in and a budget passed for fiscal 2017 so the money would keep flowing and we will not be in the same position a year from now where we are wondering if we are going to get paid.”

In spite of the continuing dilemma with the Illinois budget, Sinnissippi Centers have maintained 99 percent of their services.

“We did lose one of our prescribers that is mid-level with a physician’s assistant who prescribed medications for folks, and we were unable to recruit somebody else at an acceptable cost,” said Phelan. “We are continuing to recruit for a replacement, but we are currently down a little bit in our psychiatric services. Otherwise, we are pretty close to maintaining our previous levels of service.”

The leadership at Sinnissippi Centers saw what was coming in February of 2015 and took a close look at all of their expenses and all the ways they generate revenue, so they had a plan in place in advance of the state budget stalemate that arrived in July of that year.

“We made the right decisions and we are continuing to operate,” Phelan said. “There is a lot of potential for the future and it’s sad that we have to worry about when the checks will come so we can keep the doors open, but there a couple of exciting things on the horizon.”

He said Rauner brought together the human services department heads and commissioned them to transform health care in Illinois. Knowing that behavioral health care, mental health care and substance abuse impacts everything else so dramatically, that group decided to start the transformation with the field served by Sinnissippi Centers.

“They really understand all the challenges and what the system of care for behavioral health ought to look like, and so what you’ve got behind this current fiscal mess is planning that is better than anything that I’ve seen in my career,” Phelan said.

He is one of two CEOs of behavioral health services asked to join a newly formed work group that will begin the processes necessary for the transformation this week in Chicago.

“I really see a lot of promise there, not only for funding, but for righting a lot of the inefficiencies that have existed in state funding for a long time,” he said. “I think we’ve got some good days ahead of us and we are really looking forward to being able to expand again.”

Expansion plans include working with the center’s partners to do care coordination in their clinics, adding substance abuse services, and implementing those cutting edge care services that require considerable capital.

“The partnerships between our area agencies are key and have been for many years,” said Sinnissippi Centers’ Marketing Coordinator Andrew Jackson.

“These agencies have tried to work together and more closely to the best of their ability and I say, best of their ability because sometimes, due to state requirements, they are not always able to do everything. 

“But, to the best of their ability they continue to stretch those dollars and coordinate services and I think that is continuing and ever more vital. We’re grateful for the partnerships we have with those organizations and people that have come together to provide human services,” said Jackson.

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