ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Since the closure of the Singer Mental Health Center in 2012, Rockford has suffered from a lack of mental health providers and facilities, the city said.

According to the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, 27% of Rockford residents identify as having a behavioral health disorder, higher than the national average of 20%.

On Wednesday, the City of Rockford and Winnebago County announced a partnership to create a community advisory group to develop long-term solutions to improve behavioral mental health services.

“The behavioral health needs that exist, coupled with the lack of clinical resources to adequately address the issues, have a far-reaching and negative impact on the overall health of our residents and our community,” said Mayor Tom McNamara.

Healthcare experts from around the country will meet with the local group over the next eight months, with a focus on the region’s lack of psychiatric providers.

“There’s a shortage of mental health providers. So, how do we grow our own? How do we change that dialogue and narrative? What kinds of positions might work for us differently, so that we can begin to build that pathway?” said Winnebago County Health Department Director Dr. Sandra Martell. “Maybe, it’s community health workers. Maybe it’s more telehealth. Maybe it’s looking at more group therapy, things like that. But, again, this is the work of this group is to take it to the next level.”

The University of Wisconsin study also found that drug overdose deaths in Winnebago County are more than double the national average, with 49 per 100,000 residents versus 23 per 100,000 residents.