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Mayoral Candidate for Rockford, IL Address Mental Illness

        Your Vote CountsTuesday, April 4th
The new Mayor of Rockford will face unaddressed behavioral health problems that can have a negative effect on Rockford’s economy. Increased costs include emergency and social services, special education, services for homelessness, law enforcement, criminal justice and more.
As mayor of Rockford you will have a unique role in shaping the perception of mental illness.  Our next Mayor can choose to promote recovery, reduce the impact of behavioral health problems that occur and ensure that needed treatments and service are available.
On behalf of all our members, health care professionals, advocates and the citizens of Rockford we asked the four mayoral candidates to address mental illness and to specifically address the following questions.
  • What is your position and plan for training law enforcement about mental illness?
  • Will you back any future endeavors to fund local mental health services?
  • What is your position about early identification and prevention on mental illness especially in city funded (head start) programs?
NAMI wishes to thank you for your responses and as promised we are publishing them on our NAMI Northern Illinois facebook page,   in Changing Minds, a quarterly newsletter,  and here in our online newsletter “NAMI Mail”.
We want to thank all four of you for your sincere efforts to work on making Rockford a great community to live in and raise our families.
NAMI members, we hope you go to the polls feeling informed about your choice for the next mayor of Rockford.  This is a unique election with four candidates vying for mayor.
Every Vote Counts on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
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Brian Leggano 
Republican Mayoral Candidate for Rockford, IL 
I would first like to thank you and everyone at NAMI for all that out you do for mental illness in our community.  I do agree the problem is at a crisis level and something has to be done.  Ignoring a problem never makes it get better.
I am pleased to present my responses to your questions:
“Why should NAMI Northern Illinois members vote for You?”
NAMI members should vote for me because I care greatly about Rockford and mental illness here in Rockford and nationally.  I will work very hard for Rockford.  I am the best candidate to make Rockford a much better and safer place.
What is your position and plan for training law enforcement about mental illness?
I support the training of all law enforcement about mental illness.  Law enforcement is on the front line and the first responders when there is a disturbance and mental health crisis.   I support the implementation of a CIT – Crisis Intervention Team to help solve this problem.    We must lessen the amount of people with mental illness occupying our jail and get them the help they need.  It costs more to house an inmate with mental illness in the jail rather than in treatment facility.
Will you back any future endeavors to fund local mental health services?
Yes.  I support the implementation of a 708 Board in Winnebago County and feel it will be as successful as it is in other countries where it has been implemented.  I was disappointed to see that the 708 board did not get approved by the County Board when it came up.  A lot of worry is placed on the stress it will have on property taxes.  We can find funding for the 708 board.  Winnebago County has 86 units of government and many of those entities do not need to exist. We have a township that cares for 11 miles or road and receives property taxes.  There are a lot of cuts and savings that could be made that can fund the 708 board.  Most of all it costs more to house a mentally ill person in jail than a mental health facility.   The mentally ill will get more help in a mental health facility than a jail cell that is for sure.  That fact in itself will save the County money and taxpayer dollars.
What is your position about early identification and prevention on mental illness especially in city funded (head start) programs?
I support Head Start a federally funded program that helps our youth.  Early identification and prevention is crucial in solving the mental illness crises in our city.  We need to always encourage our youth to make the right decisions instead of bad decisions.   Getting our youth the help they need early in life helps tremendously.
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 Ron Manns  
Independent Mayoral Candidate for Rockford, IL
Q:  Position and plan for training law enforcement about mental illness?
A:  As a Marine veteran of law enforcement for 9 plus years and Training Officer for the entire department, I believe that it is paramount that we train all of our first responders to include fire fighters and EMT’s to be able to recognize possible mental illness.  Being a volunteer for the Civilian Medical Records Network which specializes in the prevention of veteran and active duty suicides, I am very much aware of how not owning any disorder can quickly allow that disorder to own you.  Each of these first responder groups should have an avenue to get that person immediate help.   I believe this should be part of the processing of prisoners prior to incarceration so that we do not continue to jail those who need mental health services instead of being behind bars.
Q: Will you back any future endeavors to fund mental health services?
A:  Yes but I will go further by picking up the tab for mental health services for all residents who lacks the resources and insurance by paying the provider directly.
Q:  What is your position about early identification and prevention on mental illness especially in city funded (head start) programs?
A:  From my understanding there is already something called the Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation or ECMHC which is reported to work great at this.  We would incorporate this program in all early childhood facilities and Boston Children’s Hospital had a program called Family Connection Project which may also be of benefit in this regard.
I began this campaign for mayor with a 10 step economic plan for this city but after meeting quite a few people and listening to each of their concerns it has grown from 10 to now a 12 pack.  The item now listed and will be campaigned upon to finally fix in this city is The Mental Health Initiative.  It will read as offering those who wish to choose mental health counseling free community college education to begin their journey and if they decide to further and become clinical operators in this industry as well as agree to dedicate 2 years upon graduation right here in Rockford, the city will cover half of the cost for those who can afford it and all for those who can’t.
We know that it currently cost around $23,400 a year to incarcerate and we know that many are only there because their mental illness was never discovered or properly diagnosed.  We know that $2,000 per year for mental health services and we know that prior to 2006 there were approximately 500,000 hospital beds but after that it dropped to 100,000.  We know that now those incarcerated and found to have a mental illness is given some services which we already pay for and we know that mental illness is a wide ranging disorder that affects mood, thinking and behavior.  We know that it cannot be cured and we know that the number one reason it appears to be an epidemic is the stigma associated with having a mental illness which leads to being ashamed or embarrassed.  We know that the Affordable Care Act requires health exchanges to provide equal mental and physical services but with the threat of it being repelled and replaced by another unknown system those offering services may no longer have to and we know that this must change.
  1. I am offering a change to the current way we do business and the Mental Health Initiative is that change.  When an entire city speaks up and out about this maybe then other cities may tap into our courage and begin to do more to combat this menace than just refusing to address it.  I believe that using the abandoned Singer Mental Health Center on North Main Street for the severe cases of mental illness and the Rock River Academy on Elmwood for the minor cases would be ideal since these structures already exist and were built so exactly this or something quite similar.  Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia used to do this very thing but since the decline of mental health professionals and the current climate of ignoring this mounting menace, I am not sure if they still do.  We can and must do better and we shall, take it from someone who currently suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and has written a book on it.
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Tom McNamara 
 Democratic Mayoral Candidate for Rockford, IL  
I want to thank NAMI Northern Illinois for their dedication to improving the quality of life for individuals with mental illness, as well as their families through support and advocacy.   Often mental health services are seen as something a municipality funds only after they take care of citizens most basic needs, or when all the flashy projects are complete.  As Mayor I promise to be a staunch advocate, as I have on Council, for those with a mental illness.  The fact that the Illinois Department of Corrections is our State’s largest mental health provider is appalling.   An Individual’s mental health is a basic necessity and as Mayor I will advocate for more funding.
As Third Ward Alderman, I publicly advocated for the opening of the Rosecrance Ware Center on North Main Street a proposal that faced stiff opposition in the community and from several council members.  I worked with Alderman Beach to support and pass emergency funding to keep the Rosecrance Mulberry Center open when State funds never came through.  I also served on the Exploration Committee to create a 708 Board chaired by Mike Bacon.    I was honored to receive the elected official NAMI award in 2015 and promise to continue to fight for more funding, a change in culture, and to close the treatment gaps.
This past month, I introduced a City Budget which doubled our funds directed at police officer training. As Mayor, I will advocate for more training dollars to be used to train and educate officers about mental illness and domestic violence. Today we have a limited number of CIT officers (Crisis Intervention Training- the nationally accepted course model) but we need to have all officers trained in CIT.   I believe our Head Start teachers also need to be trained in early identification and prevention so they can truly be more holistic in their approach to serving our youth.
Lastly, I strongly support the creation of a 708 Board.   I believe every candidate supports the creation of a 708 Board, but I am the only candidate running for office with the proven experience and track record of working with other government agencies to pass legislation that benefits all of our citizens.
With the help of NAMI and proven leadership in the Mayor’s office I believe we can create a 708 board, which will be instrumental in providing necessary services to all of our citizens.
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Rudy Valdez   
Independent Mayoral Candidate for Rockford, IL 
Mental Health – Training
Since 2010, Rockford police officers have participated in training on how to deal with people with mental health issues. Both Chief Epperson and Chief O’Shea have strong relationships with the mental health providers in the area including Rosecrance/Janet Wattles.  These are important relationships to establish and maintain and as Mayor, I would require our police department to not only continue this practice, but to continue to partner on methods and methodologies that give officers the practical tools and resources to better manage the mental health crisis they encounter.
The National Council for Behavioral Health recommends a program called Mental Health First Aide, which brings a practical, demonstrated approach to build mental health literacy and help identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.   The current mental health training our police officers experience is similar in structure and design to this national program.  This type of training should be a part of the training curriculum for every newly hired police officer and recertification should be required every two years.
We also need to explore some of the natural partnerships with mental health providers that are already in place.  Our department has a Domestic Violence Unit.  This unit partners with the Winnebago County Domestic Violence Assistance Center, PHASE/WAVE and other groups.  I would like to take these partnerships one step further and integrate staff or volunteers into our three stations so that our officers and our victims have immediate access to support and assistance. Bringing these resources into our stations would provide our officers and the community immediate access to professionals training in recognizing and providing solutions for those in a mental health crisis that can lead to or be a result of domestic violence.
When we discuss a safe, healthy community, we must make mental health solutions a part of that discussion.  Integrating mental health literacy and the best practices in managing those issues needs to be an integral part of our police department training.
Mental Health – Funding
In 2011, Linda Rosenberg, President & CEO, National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare stated in an article to raise awareness for Mental Health Week, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) find that about half of U.S. adults will develop a mental illness during their lifetime. One in four adults experiences a mental disorder in any given year, and one in 17 lives with a serious mental illness like schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. By 2020, mental and substance use disorders will surpass all physical diseases worldwide as major causes of disability.”
With these staggering statistics in mind, appropriately and fairly funded mental health programs become a smart investment.  Current funding levels, most of which are dependent on the State of Illinois, are at a crisis level and have resulted in the closing of facilities and the overcrowding of emergency rooms.  In the same article, Ms. Rosenberg points out that “A Surgeon General’s report finds that $1.00 invested in substance use treatment has a return of $7.00 in cost savings on crime and criminal justice costs alone.”
It’s important to remember that funding mental health is a regional issue and requires a regional approach.  The establishment of a 708-mental health board inclusive of Winnebago County and our surrounding communities is an absolute need.  Our neighbors in McHenry County have found success in this approach.  And, while the Community Mental Health Act mandates that the County administer and manage the board, the city of Rockford should play a major, supportive role in this process.
Mental Health – Early Identification
Early identification and prevention on mental illness, especially in Head Start is a good initiative. The Head Start program makes sure that children go to the dentist to assess the condition of their teeth, then why not have a mental health assessment? Many children with mental illness have gone through so much in their young lives. We need to have a program and process that helps them get the right assessments, strategies, and learning plans.
Public safety is a basic need that will allow Rockford to build on so it becomes a safe and prosperous community with a high quality of life for our residents. One main area that plays a large influencing role is how we address mental illness.
We need to establish access to community-based services and reduce reliance on institutional and inpatient care. We also need to protect individuals experiencing mental illness so that they can be treated in the least restrictive environment to the greatest extent possible.
In the long run, greater availability of mental health treatment would provide major savings to society and to crime victims. And a good start is the establishment of a 708-mental health board.

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