New loan repayment program seeks to increase number of Illinois mental health workers

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QUINCY (WGEM) – Despite growing demand for mental health help, members of a local mental health organization say not everyone has the access they need.

Transitions of Western Illinois officials said 82 of Illinois’ 102 counties face a shortage of mental health workers, but a new state program offering student loan repayment could help make a difference.

The program offers debt repayment to those who have worked for at least one year in a community mental health organization in an underserved area.

Transitions executive director Mark Schmitz said there was a huge need for professionals and it could help small organizations like theirs attract people to the area.

“Having that kind of loan forgiveness really puts us on a bit more of an even footing with those who are in the broader healthcare system whose services are supported by commercial insurance more than Medicaid for example, so it’s really a way to help us either retain or attract staff that we might not have had otherwise,” Schmitz said.

He said when people need help, they need it immediately. The more professionals they are able to attract, he said, the more people will have access to mental health resources.

Schmitz said this program can also be helpful in retaining workers.

“It’s probably no surprise that sometimes people aren’t being paid the highest salaries in behavioral healthcare,” Schmitz said. “And that’s a person’s way of saying, ‘I could really fulfill my personal mission of helping people, but also have a way of not having debt hanging over my head. “”

He said another benefit to this is that those who are currently in school or want to go back to school to get their master’s degree or just further training, it makes it more attainable for them.

The amount people can be paid depends on their position. Those wishing to check if they are eligible should consult the Illinois Student Aid Commission website.

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