Using Technology to Improve Rural Health Access

(Edwardsville, Illinois) — In rural areas, long drives to addiction treatment facilities are common. For individuals who lack transportation or may temporarily have lost the right to drive, the inability to get to a treatment program can be a substantial barrier to recovery. In 2011, funding from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helped launch the Illinois Technology Enhancements for Coordinated Health (TECH) Care pilot program in Illinois’ Fourth Judicial Circuit.

The Illinois TECH Care program used technology to engage justice-involved adults in Clinton, Fayette, and Marion counties, resulting in a streamlined care coordination system and increased client access to services. As an infrastructure development program, it piloted the use of video conferencing, automated wellness calls, and electronically shared data to respond to significant health and communication gaps for women and men with substance use and/or co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders involved in the criminal justice system.

To launch the program, TASC collaborated with Community Resource Center as a rural treatment provider, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as an external program evaluator, and court and probation system partners, with TASC responsible for overall program implementation, as well as technology integration, training, and case management.

“The program allowed us to schedule assessments via video, versus trying to schedule in person with long distances,” said Craig Cooper, who directs operations for TASC in 101 Illinois counties, and who oversaw clinical service delivery for the pilot. “The quicker you can respond to a client in need and get that level of engagement, the better.”

In addition to supporting improved behavioral health outcomes, telehealth can lower treatment costs by saving the costs of driving and staff time. Treatment, justice, and community service partners also benefit from the new technological infrastructure, which allows the sharing of health information among their sites and builds a sustainable, data-informed system of care for populations that are historically difficult to engage.

“Being able to provide services through videoconferencing or telehealth links individuals to services they might not receive otherwise in a rural area,” said Georgianne Broughton, executive director of Community Resource Center, which provides behavioral healthcare treatment, prevention and educational services. “Using technology positively to affect change in how we deliver services has been a benefit to our communities in rural Illinois.”

Along with its reputation for advocacy and facilitating access to and retention in treatment, perhaps less well-known is TASC’s history of technology innovation, as in the Illinois TECH Care program.

“TASC has always promoted the effective use of technology for social services,” said Marina Uk, director of Management Information Services at TASC, who served as the project director and led all technical aspects and implementation of Illinois TECH Care. The integration of technology across numerous TASC programs over many years has allowed for more efficient data collection, which in turn supports program analysis and ongoing service improvement.

As part of SAMHSA’s first cohort of Targeted Capacity Expansion – Technology Assisted Care (TCE-TAC) grantees to build a telehealth program to support the delivery of behavioral health services, TASC and Illinois serve as an example of how the innovative use of technology, along with coordinated implementation, can improve community health and enhance client engagement in care coordination activities. As elements of the pilot program are rolled out across Illinois, learning and knowledge will help counties plan for and integrate similar health information technologies successfully.

TASC President Appointed to Governor Rauner’s Criminal Justice Reform Commission

(Springfield) – TASC President Pam Rodriguez has been appointed to Governor Bruce Rauner’s Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

Established by the Governor’s executive order in February, the new Commission will examine all aspects of Illinois’ criminal justice system, sentencing practices, community supervision, and the use of alternatives to incarceration.

Twenty-eight members were named to the Commission, including lawmakers, researchers, nonprofit leaders, and criminal justice experts. Former U.S. Attorney Rodger Heaton, who was named in January to serve as the state’s public safety director, will chair the Commission.

A primary goal of the Commission is to issue recommendations to reduce the population of the state’s crowded prisons by 25 percent within 10 years.

“With the state’s leadership and all of us working together, I feel confident that we can achieve that goal sooner,” said Rodriguez, a projection she echoed in an interview with WICS in Springfield on Wednesday.

“We know what works,” she said. “We have an opportunity to implement evidence-based alternatives to incarceration on a far broader scale, and at the same time achieve better results in terms of cost savings and reduced recidivism.”

The Commission will issue its initial findings and recommendations to the Governor by July 1, and a final report to the Governor and the General Assembly by December 31, 2015.

TASC President Pam Rodriguez, named to Governor Rauner's criminal justice reform commission, is interviewed by WICS Newschannel 20 at the Illinois Capitol in Springfield.

TASC President Pam Rodriguez, named to Governor Rauner’s criminal justice reform commission, is interviewed by WICS Newschannel 20 at the Illinois Capitol in Springfield.


TASC VP George Williams Receives 7th Congressional District Heroes Award

(Chicago) – TASC Vice President of Community and Government Affairs George Williams was recognized by Illinois’ 7th Congressional District on February 8 for his service in the U.S. Armed Forces and as a community advocate.

At the awards ceremony in celebration of today’s heroes, Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL7) presented the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition to Williams for “outstanding and invaluable service to the community.”

As a U.S. Army veteran, Williams also has earned the National Defense Service Medal for his honorable military service.

The 7th Congressional District awards event, held at Clair Christian United Methodist Church in Chicago, also recognized other retired and active military personnel, police, firefighters, and first responders dedicated to community service and safety.

Williams joined TASC in 1990 and has held successive roles administering programs and promoting policies that address health needs and racial disparities among justice populations. Along with his responsibilities at TASC, Williams is co-chair of Congressman Davis’ Criminal Justice Reform Committee and Substance Abuse Advisory Committee. He also is a member of the Congressman’s committees on AIDS/HIV, Mental Health, and Public Safety.

Throughout his career, Williams has presented at numerous national and international conferences on issues related to criminal justice and addiction recovery. In 2012 he received an honorary Ph.D. in Urban Studies from IPAE-Midwest Bible College.

Congressman Danny Davis (left) honors TASC Vice President George Williams for outstanding service to the community.

Congressman Danny Davis (left) honors TASC Vice President George Williams for outstanding service to the community.


Governor Rauner Boosts Criminal Justice Reform; Solutions Include Diversion and Alternatives to Incarceration

At the signing of executive order establishing criminal justice commission, Governor Rauner greets Mike Torchia, director of Court Services for Sangamon County Adult Probation.  (Photo by TASC.)

Governor Bruce Rauner (right) greeted Mike Torchia, director of Court Services for Sangamon County Adult Probation, at the February 11 signing of an executive order establishing a criminal justice reform commission. (Photo by TASC.)

OP-ED: Governor Bruce Rauner signed an executive order on Wednesday to establish the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. Given that Illinois’ prison population has grown by 700 percent in the past 40 years, the commission will make recommendations to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent.

At the same time, the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee, created last May and chaired by State Representative Michael J. Zalewski (D-23) and State Senator Michael Noland (D-22), recognizes the need to reduce incarceration of individuals with non-violent offenses and those with mental illness and addiction.

These initiatives by the Governor’s office and the General Assembly are critical and timely. They can be accelerated by leveraging proven solutions already working in Illinois.

First, sound reforms must recognize that the Illinois prison system is one of largest under-funded health operations in the country. Half of adults in prison have a mental health problem, and two thirds of adults in jail and prison have a substance use disorder requiring intervention. Many have co-occurring conditions. However, failed policies of the past 40 years have favored incarceration over treatment, driving prison and jail crowding and the clogging of courts.

Second, to slow the flood of non-violent offenders who churn through Illinois prisons, prosecutors and judges across Illinois must have means to systematically identify and divert non-violent defendants who have substance use or mental health conditions out of the justice system and into licensed treatment programs in the community.

More than 31,000 people were admitted to Illinois prisons in FY 13 (the most recently published data), with an estimated 57 percent sentenced for non-violent offenses eligible for diversion. Meanwhile, Illinois is paying $21,000 per year to incarcerate each of these men and women, when treatment and case management are only one-fifth that cost. No Entry diversion policies and programs—from “drug schools” to mandated community-based treatment with case management—reduce recidivism, save system and taxpayer costs, and address the behavioral health and social issues that often contribute to criminal behavior.

Last year, for example, TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) diverted more than 2,000 non-violent defendants away from prison and into supervised drug treatment in the community, saving the State of Illinois $35 million.

We know what works. To achieve real reform and cost savings, Illinois must bring these proven approaches to scale.

Pamela F. Rodriguez

President & CEO

TASC, Inc.


TASC’s Khalid Scott Honored Among Chicago Defender’s Men of Excellence

(Chicago) – The Chicago Defender honored TASC Clinical Supervisor Khalid Scott at the publication’s 8th annual “Men of Excellence” celebration at the Hyatt Regency Chicago on January 16.

One of the nation’s oldest and most influential African-American newspapers, the Chicago Defender annually recognizes men in both public and private sectors who personify the qualities of respect, responsibility, passion, brotherhood, and leadership.

Hosted by NBC Chicago’s Art Norman, the award celebration drew an estimated 500 guests and recognized 50 men as this year’s honorees.

Since 2002, Scott has served as clinical supervisor for TASC’s Recovery Coach program, which helps parents who have lost custody of their children because of parental substance use disorders. According to a 2012 study by the University of Illinois, an estimated 50 percent of children in the Illinois foster care system are removed from families with serious drug problems.

Through this program, which is led by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, TASC Recovery Coaches provide proactive case management and intensive outreach to engage and retain parents in treatment and recovery.

“After a short while working with the Recovery Coach program, I really understood the impact of our work in helping the birth parents,” said Scott. “Once they learned to live sober lives then they’re more likely to be able to be reunited with their children.”

“We are so proud of Khalid and his dedication to families and kids in need,” added TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “His optimism and enthusiasm permeate everything he does.”

The 2012 University of Illinois study found that reunification rates were 21 percent greater for children of parents in the Recovery Coach program than for a control group who did not receive the services; the study also found that the re-arrest rate for youth whose parents are in the program was cut in half. In addition, the program saved the State of Illinois more than $6.1 million between 2000 and 2010.

“We have reunified hundreds of families and have helped save millions of dollars,” said Scott. “Recovery is a long, hard path, but it’s amazing to see the happiness and joy of families coming together.”

In addition to working with TASC, Scott is a college lecturer, youth mentor, godfather, and proud father of daughter Anayah.

Family members, friends, and colleagues of TASC Clinical Supervisor Khalid Scott gathered to honor him as one of the Chicago Defender's 2015 Men of Excellence.  Front row: Pam Rodriguez, TASC; Jean Mays, TASC; Kathleen Scott, Khalid’s mother. Back row, left to right: Rochelle Wade, TASC; Markus McCown, TASC; Marcia Bass, TASC; LaNoah Lomax, mentee; Anayah Scott, Khalid’s daughter; Khalid Scott, TASC; Tressa Epps, friend and nominator.

Family members, friends, and colleagues of TASC Clinical Supervisor Khalid Scott gathered to honor him as one of the Chicago Defender’s 2015 Men of Excellence. Front row, left to right: Pam Rodriguez, TASC; Jean Mays, TASC; Kathleen Scott, Khalid’s mother. Back row, left to right: Rochelle Wade, TASC; Markus McCown, TASC; Marcia Bass, TASC; LaNoah Lomax, friend and mentee; Anayah Scott, Khalid’s daughter; Khalid Scott, TASC; Tressa Epps, friend and nominator.



Illinois Parents Facing Relinquishment of Kids with Mental Illness to Get Help

(Chicago) – A shrunken public safety net in Illinois due to budget cuts has forced numerous parents into an anguished-filled dilemma: whether to relinquish custody of their children with serious mental or emotional problems in order to get them care.

As of January 1, 2015, a new Illinois law will help avert this agonizing choice for parents.

House Bill 5598, sponsored by State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) and State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield), was signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn on August 1.

The new law addresses scenarios in which parents resort to relinquishing custody, making their children wards of the state, in order to gain access to urgently needed treatment through the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Wards of the state are entitled to care for these serious conditions.

“Over the past few years, children with mental illnesses have faced diminishing programs and services due to persistent and harsh state budget cuts,” said Feigenholtz. “With nowhere else to go, desperate parents are being forced to give up custody of their children. This law will make sure that families aren’t being torn apart.”

Illinois agencies will now organize a coordinated state response to help find and provide affordable care without forcing this decision. The bill requires DCFS and other state agencies – the Department of Human Services (DHS), the State Board of Education (BOE), the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), and the Department of Public Health (DPH) – to create an intergovernmental team that will create a path for parents who have exhausted all other options to help them to secure health care for their children without having to relinquish custody.

Feigenholtz obtained an additional $7 million in the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget to fund mental health services that she says will allow DCFS to help keep families intact.

“This bill is a common sense measure to protect families and children across Illinois,” Feigenholtz said. “It ensures that children can receive the mental health treatment they need and continue to thrive in the supportive and loving environments provided by their families.”

“Parents should never be put in the position of having to give up custody of their child in order for the child to get mental health care,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “Representative Feigenholtz’s bill will keep families together as they get the care they critically need.”

Illinois Employers No Longer Allowed to Ask About Criminal Histories on Job Application Forms

(Chicago) – As of January 1, 2015, a new Illinois law effectively eliminates questions from private businesses’ job applications about whether applicants have a criminal history.

The law requires an employer or employment agency to wait until an applicant has been selected for an interview or until after a conditional job offer has been extended before inquiring about, considering, or requiring disclosure of criminal history.

House Bill 5701, sponsored by State Representative Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan) and State Senator Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago), passed the State legislature with bi-partisan support and was signed by Governor Pat Quinn on July 21.

A similar requirement for employment with State government was executed in Illinois in 2013 through executive order.

Prospects for economic stability are often severely hampered by a criminal record, which remains in place long after a probation or prison sentence is served. These records regularly come with a lifelong struggle to find a job.

“Each year, thousands of motivated men and women throughout Illinois are denied consideration for jobs before they are interviewed and before their qualifications are evaluated, often because they had to check the box next to a question asking if they have a criminal record,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “This is no small problem. One in four adults in the U.S. has a criminal record.”

Research shows that the negative effects of a criminal record are significantly more pronounced for African Americans, and that personal contact appears to mitigate the negative impact of a criminal record.

Several other states have enacted similar “Ban the Box” laws, including Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.