On May 4, state and local leaders visited the new state-of-the-art facility where Healthcare Alternative Systems, 4734 W. Chicago Ave., provides substance use treatment and mental health care services. The agency invited community members, partners and elected officials to an open house at its new Austin facility, which opened its doors in February of this year.
“This 20,000-square-foot facility is our commitment to the Austin community. We are committed to empower individuals, to empower families,” said CEO Marco E. Jacome. “In this facility we’ll provide the whole continuum of care, from behavioral health to mental health outpatient services to substance abuse treatment and outpatient [services].”
Founded in 1974 to serve Chicago’s Hispanic community, the behavioral health care and social services agency has become a state leader in providing multicultural and bilingual services. The new $5 million facility aims to provide high-quality care to Austin residents.
“We know that wellness is more than the absence of illness, in fact it is helping people to experience both joy and to thrive,” said David T. Jones, chief behavioral health officer with the governor’s office. He highlighted the agency’s efforts at an intentional health care approach that connects mental health and substance use disorders to other social determinants of health. “We know that those diseases have impact on people’s ability to stay housed, remained housed, employment [and] nutrition.”
Jones said these services are important as overdose deaths continue to increase across the state. From 2019 to 2021, overdose deaths increased by 25% in suburban communities, 33% in rural communities and 49% in Chicago, predominantly on the South and West Sides.
“Being in this facility is like a dream come true, ” said Millie Adan, chief operations officer for Healthcare Alternative Systems, told the Austin Weekly News. She added the agency is eager to address the need for community substance use recovery and support services and has spent time building relationships with local residents and stakeholders.
The facility comes after seven years of the agency searching for a West Side location, a challenging task as elected officials often rejected the idea of having a medication-assisted recovery center in their wards, Jacome said.
Since its opening, it has offered its medication-assisted recovery program, providing treatment for approximately 200 individuals who use drugs or other substances, Jacome said. At the Austin facility, Jacome expects 400 to 600 individuals to access medication-assisted recovery. Mariana Sneed, program director, said beyond getting medication to help manage their substance use, individuals access continuing care that helps them achieve long-term results with services like counseling, mentorship and support groups. Bilingual services, in English and Spanish, are available.
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said she is grateful to have the agency come to the 37th ward, as she “didn’t see enough resources” to help the community deal with the opioid and mental health crisis that affects many of its residents. She also noted the facility’s impact will go beyond the ward.
“[It’s] a straight shot from the suburbs [to] Austin,” Mitts said. “So, the facility that you’re placing here is gonna be a catalyst for a lot of communities around who have not been able to get access.”
Outpatient services will soon be provided at the Austin location to complement the continuum of care that individuals need. Group rooms and office spaces are ready for social workers and mental health specialists to come in. In addition, HAS will run its harm reduction program to prevent overdoses.
“There is still a lot of stigma, not only in substance abuse but in mental health,” Jacome said, adding the agency is building partnerships and working to reach local residents. “It’s gonna be a lot of work to make sure that people in Austin know what types of services we provide and come get these services.”
The new Austin center, one of 14 Healthcare Alternative Systems locations, will also house the agency’s headquarters which were formerly located in Humboldt Park.
“We wanna be in Austin, we want to show our commitment to the people in need,” Jacome said. “We want to be part of a just and equitable society and for that, being in the Austin community is the right place for us.”