PEORIA — The shortage of psychiatrists and other behavioral health professionals in central Illinois is one of many issues the newly created UnityPoint Health - UnityPlace will address, said Debbie Simon UnityPoint Health Regional CEO, during a Wednesday morning news conference at the Atrium building in Downtown Peoria.

“The number one thing I believe we are all committed to is increasing access to care — access to crisis care, physician care, community care, hospital care — in a much more efficient and seamless way,” said Simon, who will serve as interim president of UnityPlace after her impending retirement from UnityPoint Health

UnityPoint Health is joining forces with the Human Service Center and Tazwood Center for Wellness to form UnityPlace, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to meeting the growing behavioral health care needs in central Illinois. The goal is to transform how behavioral health services are delivered.

Human Service Center and Tazwood Center for Wellness are both not-for-profit organizations which have been providing behavioral health services in central Illinois since the 1970s. The Human Service Center works with residents of Peoria County, and Tazwood Center for Wellness serves residents in Tazewell, Woodford, Logan and McLean counties, and provides emergency response services to residents in Fulton and Mason Counties.

“By pooling our resources, we will be able to make an immediate impact on the service delivery system, addressing issues that have negatively impacted our community for decades,” said Simon. “During the first six months of operation, UnityPlace will work diligently to improve access through provider recruitment, the use of technology, centralized scheduling and other tools available to us. There is an urgency to behavioral healthcare and people need to be seen quickly. We are going to make it happen.”

Leaders of UnityPlace want to remove roadblocks patients frequently face when seeking help for behavioral health issues. One way is to create a model that integrates behavioral health with primary care services.

One of the biggest roadblocks patients face is finding physician and clinical providers, said Simon

“We have a tremendous dedication in our medical community and our clinical community, but we need more,” she said.

The creation of UnityPlace will make it easier to recruit mental health professionals to the area, said Dr. Ryan Finkenbine, chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria.

“Pulling this together creates so many opportunities for behavioral health professionals, I think it will definitely be easier to recruit,” he said after the news conference.

Today Peoria has about 26 psychiatrists, which is too few, said Finkenbine.

“We need about 40,” he said. “There is a wait list for psychiatric patient services. I think all venues have a very long wait list — from weeks to months.”

Over the next few months the leaders of UnityPlace will announce more details about their plan to transform behavioral health services in central Illinois.

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or Follow her on, and subscribe to her on