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By Jerry Lane - Special to the Daily Chronicle

Chronicle missing the point

To the EDITOR:

It is very ironic that the Chronicle has been running a number of items about the failure of mental health care in the U.S. The articles have ranged from mentally ill individuals dying in local jails because they were denied their medications to California hospitals dumping non-functioning psychiatric patients on skid row, leading to further deaths. The Chronicle seems to be coyly responding to the community outrage over the closing of Kishwaukee Community Hospital’s behavioral (mental) health inpatient unit.
Perhaps if the Chronicle editorial staff had been reading its own articles or done a little investigative reporting, the hasty editorial supporting the KCH closure would have been more nuanced. Ultimately, this is not about whether there are too many behavioral health beds in our regional hospitals. The Illinois Hospital Facilities Planning Board was not set up to do needs assessments or to reform the mental health system. It was set up to ration health care. This un-capitalistic regulatory body was deemed necessary because health care providers were overbuilding in some areas, driving up costs and sometimes driving each other into mutual failure or reducing the overall availability of health care.
The problem with behavioral health care is that there is a huge lack of inpatient beds – not a surplus. So how can KCH or IHFPB contend that there are too many? The answer is that for decades, we have been penny wise and pound foolish in support of behavioral health care. Where do you think those seriously ill individuals go when we shut down our state hospitals, underfund and overwhelm our community mental health centers and require general hospital psychiatric units to discharge patients who are clearly not capable of making reasonable decisions?
They are in the same places that they were 200 years ago – cared for at home by over-stressed families, living on the streets, in asylums (homeless shelters and nursing homes) and in prisons. The largest public mental health facility in Illinois – and one of the largest in the nation – is the Cook County Jail. Do you really think it’s cheaper to adequately treat someone who is ill in a jail versus a hospital? Do you think the average family or homeless shelter is equipped for the day-to-day care of someone with a serious mental illness?
By hiding our problem this way, taxpayers, politicians, insurance companies and hospital administrators can tout how fiscally responsible we are while ignoring the 500-pound gorilla in the room. In the long run, our society pays dearly both in money and in human tragedy for our lack of compassion or even common sense
What can we do locally? We can do what DeKalb County citizens have always done to meet a community need. We can come together to keep this valuable service intact. It’s time the KCH administrators and board did for the behavioral health inpatient program what they did to get the new hospital built – provide some leadership, show some vision, generate some enthusiasm, engage the community, work with stakeholders, make a case to donors and show us what a state-of-the-art behavioral health inpatient unit looks like. A large part of the community is already on board. Help us make it happen.

• Jerry Lane lives in Sycamore.(He is former executive director of the DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board)

Kish Hospital gets state approval to close the Mental Health Unit

Mental Health Advocate- October 2009

Dr. Foroutan Letter to the State

the DeKalb County Citizens for Better Mental health Care

State decision on mental health unit postponed



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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115