Summer 2020 | Issue 44
Better Days Ahead...
To all of you who have recently lost family members, loved ones and patients, I offer my deepest sympathy. All of us have been deprived of close social contacts, old routines, and a particular vision of the future.
Between coronavirus, lynchings, shootings, abuse of immigrants, deaths from fentanyl, global warming, and politics, these have been terrible times. We have lost the comfort of a predictable world. Those of us privileged to plan our own futures may now glimpse the anxiety felt by the world’s majority, who have always lived with uncertainty. We are shocked by the widening gulf between those who lack food, housing, healthcare and jobs, and those who have too much. But the courage, kindness and commitment of Black physicians in the face of systemic racism is a healing balm to all. White doctors owe all others so much.
Grief surrounds us. Yet there have been accommodations to the pandemic which brighten our lives. We are suddenly using tele-health, which we may have viewed with suspicion and confusion before March 2020. Now it’s normal. Tele-health is as radical an innovation as the telephone must have been in its time. IPS and APA are part of a national movement to codify rules for insurance to reimburse doctors for telehealth at the same rate as in-person care, including audio-only visits.
Using the internet (which needs to be stretched to include everyone) we can watch webinars day and night. We can log in to conferences, reunions, weddings all over the world, without leaving home. The air has become cleaner. People walk outdoors. We’ve contacted old friends. We are getting more adventurous in the kitchen, with whatever is on hand.
During this era of coronavirus, the Illinois Psychiatric Society has not stopped advocating for IPS members. We are working on multiple fronts (see column by our esteemed lobbyist Betsy Mitchell). We are collaborating with other medical professional societies to protect parity for treatment of mental illness and substance use disorders, and to defend physicians and patients from the restrictive practices of insurers such as inappropriate definitions of medical necessity.
Several pressing state legislative issues will demand our attention in the coming year, including prior authorization for health care services and prescriptions, tele-health regulation, and psychologists’ authority to prescribe for children and seniors. Legislation thrives on data: Think about how you can collect data on effectiveness of what you do, eg telepsychiatry, and report your findings on how it has impacted access to care, and where it has made the biggest difference. This is information legislators want, to justify the rules we want them to make.
New IPS projects this year are the Fiduciary Oversight Committee, which will manage our investments, the Retirement Committee, which will bring pre- and post-retirement members together to socialize and learn from each other, and the Anti-Racism Task Force. Each of these small groups has met once. Participation in committees is open and encouraged for all IPS members. Furthermore, IPS relies on members to raise issues of concern, so we can find solutions together.
The IPS Anti-Racism Task Force needs your help to uncover the history of racism within IPS, and to examine the ongoing impact of racism on psychiatrists and patients. Only then can we identify appropriate actions to right the wrongs within our organization. Please send your observations and thoughts to me on this.
We need to mentor and lift up young people of color, and open pathways for them to become mental health providers. We must support current medical students and residents facing systemic racism. When we see something wrong, we have to say something. No more willful blindness.
Stress due to the pandemic and its vast economic impact has brought the importance of mental health care into public focus. Reopening of community mental health centers and increasing inpatient psychiatric beds are high priorities. IPS needs to speak out while state, county and local authorities are receptive. We can provide mental health education for police officers and prison guards, and support the creation of mental health outreach and safety net programs, especially for uninsured or homeless people.
Our Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot are sympathetic to people with mental illness and substance use disorders. Let us all reach out to our elected officials and offer psychiatric expertise and guidance during the post-covid reopening process, and promote better access to care through telepsychiatry and collaborative care.
APA and IPS have had to cancel events through the end of 2020. This is sad because we have missed educational programs and our IPS annual meeting festivities. It has also cost the organizations money. Event registration fees and vendors who advertise through IPS have provided a significant proportion of IPS revenue, now missing. Membership dues provide the principle source of income. We hope you will remember to send your dues payment to APA. To offset recent losses, IPS welcomes donations from life members who are no longer required to pay dues.
Although we cannot meet in person, IPS is planning to host a virtual career fair on 9/17/2020, and educational programs online in place of our in-person annual meeting. We are also working on a few other events over the next several months.
We have been exploring how to establish a database of psychiatrists in Illinois. The best step toward this end will be for all of us to go to http://finder.psychiatry.org/ and click on "opt-in". It takes less than a minute to do this, and it will help us all find each other. Thank you!
One more thing: Did you know that the State of Illinois now has a Diversity in Health Care Professions Task Force? It arose from IL Public Act 101-0263. There is unfortunately no one on this task force representing a mental health profession, yet. In my message to Veronica Halloway, Chief of the Center for Minority Health Services, I let her know that only about 3% of psychiatrists are Black and about 70% are White, and that mental health workers of color are needed at every level of training, and in all the counties of Illinois.
Stay healthy everyone. Wear your masks. Do good work, and keep in touch.
Susan M. Scherer, MD
IPS President 2020-2021
“Maybe national anguish can again be the midwife of progress.”
Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, 7/19/2020