Combating Illinois healthcare workforce shortage: Illinois creates a behavioral health workforce education center


James Sklar


On March 8th, Gov. JB Pritzker, state officials, and local partners announced the launch of a new Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center. The center is designed to help increase Illinois’s capacity to recruit, educate, and retain behavioral health professionals.


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“We are laying out a plan to build the best behavioral health system in America. Built in Illinois, we will lead the nation when we are all done with this,” Pritzker said. “But in order to make all that happen, we need a quality robust workforce to meet the demands of the time, especially in light of our nationwide critical workforce shortage.”

The new center is located at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine (SIU SOM) and was created in partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) Jane Addams College of Social Work, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), and the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS).

SIU SOM is going to be the hub for coordination and support in building a behavioral health workforce pipeline. The UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work is going to be the second hub by supporting specific data collection and training initiatives.

Pritzker said this will all begin with a $5 million annual investment from the Department of Human Services to help address the behavioral health crisis and access to behavioral healthcare for rural and urban areas.

“This is the workforce component, and it is hugely important. Nothing else happens without building up our workforce in this area,” Pritzker said. “Through recruitment and training, data collection on behavioral health needs, increased diversity in the workforce, and expanded capacity of healthcare providers, we are attacking the workforce shortage head-on, and we are changing the status quo.”

Pritzker stated that this center will cover the broad spectrum of behavioral health professionals including social workers, paraprofessionals, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

Secretary Grace B. Hou of the Illinois Department of Human Services said Illinois is projected to have a shortfall of more than 3,300 behavioral health providers by 2030 if there is no intervention. She went on to explain that Illinois has provided nearly $30 million in financial support to help mental health providers to recruit and retain staff.

“The Workforce Center is an opportunity to transform the system to make it more responsive to the needs of individuals, families, and children in this State,” Hou said. “IDHS is energized to work with our partners to strengthen the infrastructure needed to provide critical services to those in need.”

This center stems from a 2019 report created by the Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center Task Force, which was produced to help address Illinois’s behavioral health workforce situation.