Taking a Stand Pays Off: A Treatment Center Finds Benefits from Entering the Legislative Process

By Gresham, James | Behavioral Healthcare, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Taking a Stand Pays Off: A Treatment Center Finds Benefits from Entering the Legislative Process


Gresham, James, Behavioral Healthcare


Can corporate social responsibility improve patient care and overall program success? Or is it simply one more line in the expense column?

Many healthcare organizations struggle to accomplish their primary missions to successfully treat patients and still operate healthy businesses. These same businesses may benefit from a "social adjustment"--learning to better balance patient care and civic accountability. Finding that balance, however, can be a challenge.

The answer may lie in a corporate responsibility program that accomplishes multiple goals at one time. Timberline Knolls did just that with efforts aimed at improving access to its specialized residential treatment for women and adolescent girls living with eating disorders, addictions, and other emotional disorders.

A financial crisis for potential patients

The professionals at Timberline Knolls help women and girls with a number of emotional disorders, including eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Yet each year hundreds of potential residents were unable to gain admission for financial reasons. In short, their healthcare coverage did not include treatment for eating disorders.

Physical illnesses were covered by their insurance plans and, as required by Illinois' mental health parity law, a number of serious mental illnesses were covered as well. Yet people facing severe illness and potential death were left without the help they needed because insurance companies were denying coverage for eating disorder treatment.

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Considering the depth and breadth of these illnesses, this lack of coverage was not only penny-wise and pound-foolish, it was flat out unfair. In the United States as many as 10 million women and 1 million men are fighting a life-and-death battle with anorexia or bulimia, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Eating disorders are potentially deadly, biologically based psychiatric illnesses. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, nearly 12 times greater than any other cause of death among women between age 15 and 24.

Working the legislative system

Mental illnesses, eating disorders, and addictions are real and treatable diseases. They should be covered just as equally as conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. With that in mind, Timberline Knolls saw an opportunity to work for better access for eating disorder patients.

Last year Illinois legislators introduced House Bill 1432, which was designed to strengthen the Illinois mental health insurance parity law by providing fair and equal health insurance coverage for those suffering from anorexia and bulimia. Passage of this lifesaving legislation would dramatically improve the healthcare situation for Timberline Knolls' current and potential residents.

We launched an aggressive campaign supporting the legislation's passage. This included a series of press releases and media advisories urging Illinois citizens to contact their state senators and representatives to show support for the bill. …

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Taking a Stand Pays Off: A Treatment Center Finds Benefits from Entering the Legislative Process
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