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Effort Under Way to Treat "Superutilizers"

Superutilizers are people who are frequently in and out of jails and hospitals because of mental illness or addiction. (
Superutilizers are people who are frequently in and out of jails and hospitals because of mental illness or addiction. (
December 19, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- An effort is under way in Illinois to create a data bank of so-called "superutilizers" - individuals with mental illnesses and/or addictions who repeatedly end up in jails, prisons and hospitals.

John Maki, director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Informational Authority, said his group has teamed up with the Illinois Hospital Association to try to better understand who these people are. He said doctors and law enforcement don't have a way to keep track of those people who have specialized needs.

"They know them when they get them but they don't know how they came to them. They don't know what factors led to them ending up in the system,” Maki explained. "So by putting data together, we can create kind of a 360 degree view of that person and provide more effective services."

Illinois is part of Data-Driven Health and Justice, a nationwide effort launched last summer to reduce the financial and human costs associated with incarcerating people who have complex needs but who don't pose a risk to public safety. Maki said states, counties and cities across the country have started working to divert people away from the justice system and into more appropriate care.

According to Maki, people bouncing from one jail, emergency room or rehab facility to another is costly and ineffective, and it does the patient no good.

"Someone with schizophrenia or serious mental illness or has struggled with drug addiction does not need to go to prison or jail to receive care,” he said. "It can be delivered much more effectively, much more efficiently on the outside. But to do that, we have to understand who these people are first."

Maki gave Illinois leaders credit for applying for a Medicaid waiver, which would allow the federal government to approve experimental or pilot projects to help superutilizers. He said the state took another positive step by creating the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which is designed to reduce the state's incarcerated population by 25 percent by 2025.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL