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DeKalb Daily Chronicle May 9, 2009
By KATE SCHOTT - City Editor kschott@daily-chronicle.com

Closure of six-bed unit at center of controversy

DeKALB – Area residents asked a state panel Friday to either deny the request, or at least postpone a decision, from Kishwaukee Community Hospital to close its inpatient mental health unit.
The Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board held a public hearing Friday on KCH’s request to close its six-bed behavioral health center. More than 50 people attended the 2 1/2-hour hearing, which was held in city council chambers at the DeKalb Municipal Building.
KCH submitted its proposal to close the unit in November. KCH has provided inpatient care for mental illness for more than 30 years, and the state has twice decreased the number of beds in the unit from 16 to eight and now to six.
Fifteen people spoke in favor of the proposal; nearly all of them worked for KishHealth System, of which KCH is part of, and at least half of those speaking were reading letters on behalf of someone else affiliated with the hospital.

Dr. Thomas Kirts, former director of psychiatric services at Kishwaukee Community Hospital, speaks against the closing of the inpatient mental health unit at the hospital during a hearing on the issue at the DeKalb Municipal Building in DeKalb, Ill., on Friday May 8, 2009. (Provided photo)

KCH Administrator Brad Copple said the decision to close the unit was difficult and was because of declining usage and physician coverage issues, including two extended periods in which there were no admissions. A state study released in October 2008 found 33 excess acute mental illness beds in the geographical area that includes KCH.
The unit also has not “positively contributed to the operating margin of the hospital” for the 20 years that Copple has been involved with the hospital, but he stressed that if the issue was just about money, KCH would have closed the unit years ago.
“The situation over the last two years, however, has forced us to ask ourselves, if provider coverage is problematic and utilization is dwindling, is it time to accept the fact that others can more efficiently and effectively deliver mental health services given the fact that there is an overabundance of inpatient psych beds in our planning area,” he added.
Pam Duffy, vice president of patient care services and the medical staff office for KishHealth System, said KCH has transfer agreements in place with facilities in Rockford, Dixon, Elgin, Aurora and Naperville to take patients to the appropriate level of care.
The hospital will be part of a task force that is forming to study the mental health delivery system in the community, Copple said, and will continue to make funds available for needed mental health services, a point stressed by several KCH administrators.
Jerry Lane, a Sycamore resident and spokesman for the DeKalb County Citizens for Better Mental Health Care group, said it was regrettable that the hospital didn’t reach out to the community about mental health needs before filing its request to the state.
Lane was one of 17 people who spoke in opposition of the proposal – almost all received applause from the audience when they finished speaking – all said they wanted the hospital to continue to provide inpatient services and not focus on outpatient services.
“The need we have is for inpatient care, and only the hospital is capable of providing that service,” Lane said.
Of those opposed to the proposal, several spoke about the importance family and friends play in the treatment of mental health illnesses, and said it would be a hardship to have to travel to visit them. Others noted that patients would most likely have to have new doctors when transferred to another hospital, who will not know their medical history or treatment status. Almost all asked hearing officer Karen M. Hall to postpone the state’s decision, if not outright reject it.
Sheriff Roger Scott spoke on behalf of his office, as well as DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen and Sycamore Police Chief Don Thomas. All three agencies have a good working relationship with the hospital and rely on the inpatient mental health unit as a resource for residents who are in danger of harming themselves or others, Scott said.
From Feb. 24, 2008, to Feb. 24, 2009, the sheriff’s dispatch center dealt with at least 60 suicidal situations where people were taken to the hospital’s emergency room, Scott said. In 2008, the DeKalb Fire Department transported 199 people for behavioral, suicidal, overdoses or poisoning, he added.
“I believe this strongly indicated that from the perspective of public safety there needs to be a local facility that is able to effectively address the needs of our county community of over 100,000 people,” he said.

What’s next

The Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board is tentatively scheduled to hear a request to close the inpatient mental health unit at Kishwaukee Community Hospital at its July 15-16 meeting, which starts at 9 a.m. at the Northfield Inn, Suites & Conference Center, 3280 Northfield Drive in Springfield.
Anyone who was unable to attend the hearing who wishes to submit written comments must submit them to the planning board by June 25. Written comments can be addressed to Mike Constantino, Supervisor, Project Review Section, Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, 525 W. Jefferson St., Second Floor, Springfield, IL 62761.
A state report on the request is scheduled to be released July 1 and will be available online at www.idph.state.il.us/about/hfpb.htm.

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the DeKalb County Citizens for Better Mental health Care

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115