Terri Howe, Rick Germann and Sue Warwik, AMITA’s director of mental health, inside of their Melrose Park facility. | Shanel Romain, Contributing Photographer

Fifty years after its incorporation, the Proviso Township Mental Health Center has been through its share of transition.

In 1982, the center’s name was changed to Proviso Family Services, or ProCare Centers for short. In 2000, the center was acquired by Resurrection Health Center, a traditional medical hospital.

Several mergers and acquisitions later, what began as the Mental Health Center is now known as AMITA Presence Behavioral Health — but the mission is still the same, said Rick Germann, AMITA’s vice president for Behavioral Health, during a recent interview.

And that mission? Treating and thinking about mental illness the same way society does physical illness — not as diseases arising out of personal deficiencies, but due to biological, environmental and chemical factors that affect human behavior.

“We started developing recovery-based programs back in the 1970s,” Germann said, before explaining that Joh F. Kenney’s Community Mental Health Act was a “game-changer” in community mental health. The legislation, he said, allowed for the creation of the Mental Health Center 50 years ago.

“We’ve stayed true to our roots of providing care for the most vulnerable in our society, but we’ve also expanded to treat any members of our community with mental health issues,” Germann said.

The Center still maintains its main health center at 1414 Main Street in Melrose Park and, but the integration into AMITA’s system has grown the Center’s service area well beyond Proviso Township and beyond its original focus of mental health.

There are now satellite facilities in areas such as Aurora, Evanston, Chicago and Downers Grove, he said. But all roads still lead back to Proviso and the original mission of the Center, Germann added.

“We’re one of the largest community-based mental health outpatient programs in the state,” he said.

Germann said the Center currently maintains three 24-hour integrated living homes and has crisis workers in about a dozen different police departments.

Germann said the Center also collaborates closely with other mental health providers in the area, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Metro Suburban and the nonprofit Housing Forward, in order to bolster its own offerings.

And any individuals experiencing a mental health crisis in the area can call the Center’s 24-hour crisis hotline at (708) 681-HELP (4357).

Germann said, despite the Center’s current expansive offerings, AMITA officials are working to increase awareness of mental health resources in areas of need.

“One important focus of our strategic plan is to train lay members to recognize the signs of suicide of depression,” he said.

Terri Howe, a behavioral health utilization coordinator with AMITA, said there’s a growing need for intensive mental health services, but people don’t often receive those critical services because insurers treat them differently than medical services.

“Some things that I would consider to be routine care for mental health clients aren’t covered,” she said. “It’s amazing to me we are not even in the same realm as medical benefits.”

For instance, Germann said, not enough psychiatrists accept Medicaid as a payment option because the rates are so low.

“Medicaid and Medicare should pay the same for a psychiatry visit, but they do not,” he said. “If Medicaid would align with Medicare, we would have a much different conversation and we could allocate much more into things like Housing and other community-based projects. Right now, we cannot.”

Despite some challenges, the Center is plowing ahead and looking forward to the next 50 years, Germann said, adding that the mother facility at 1414 Main Street in Melrose Park is currently undergoing much-needed renovations. The Center will have a formal event commemorating its 50th year on Nov. 9.

For more information, visit: amitahealth.org.