New DuPage council to address mental health and substance abuse care needs
As she looked around the room Friday, DuPage County Board Chairwoman Deborah Conroy told those gathered they were part of a defining moment in the county’s efforts to address mental health and substance abuse disorder needs.
“There are moments in everyone’s careers or work life that are never forgotten,” she said. “And this is going to be one of them.”
Conroy was addressing the more than 20 community leaders and medical professionals who came together for the first meeting of the DuPage Council on Strengthening the System for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Care. The council replaces the Heroin/Opioid Prevention and Education, or HOPE, task force.
Education, bridging health care gaps and eliminating stigmas are among some of the top priorities of the group.
“Together, we’ll work to strengthen our safety net,” Conroy said. “We’ll figure out where the gaps are and develop plans to help bridge those gaps with services, policies and solutions that positively impact people’s lives.”
Improving access to mental health and substance abuse care has been a focal point of Conroy’s first-term agenda. The council’s formation comes as the county is preparing to break ground this spring on a $25.8 million center to help those experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis.
“We know our community members need additional support with mental health and substance use disorder,” said DuPage County Health Department Executive Director Adam Forker, noting local statistics and community surveys have highlighted the need. “I know that this work can, and will, make a difference in the lives of our residents.”
The council includes county board members, public health and medical professionals, county officials, state lawmakers, substance abuse and mental health care providers and first responders. The group will work to provide recommendations to county officials regarding mental health and substance use disorder care, programming and public awareness.
“I think this (council) is going to be a voice to highlight the gaps and how we can work together,” said Felicia Miceli, a Bartlett woman whose 24-year-old son, Louie, died of a heroin overdose in 2011. Miceli worked with state lawmakers and others to pass Louie’s law which encourages expanded drug education in public schools.
She acknowledged change won’t happen overnight but was hopeful the council could “move the needle in a positive direction.” She also was encouraged by the county’s efforts to address mental health and substance abuse care needs.
Many in the group noted the need for public awareness of services already available, such as the 988 crisis line, and efforts to help destigmatize mental health needs.
The group will meet again in January and expects to continue meeting every month.