DeKALB About 100 people attended a forum Monday night
to share their thoughts on the proposed closing of an inpatient
mental health unit at Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb.
More than a dozen people spoke during the two-hour forum, which
was held in the multipurpose room at the DeKalb County Health
Department and hosted by the DeKalb County Community Mental Health
Board. Almost all voiced support for keeping the unit open.
"Get with it, and rethink your decision," said Ivan
Williams, who more than 40 years ago helped forge the county's
KCH notified the state of its intent to close the behavioral
health unit at the hospital in a Nov. 20, 2008, letter to the
Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. That board is responsible
for ensuring that the distribution of various health services
in the state is fairly proportioned.
Charles Rose, president of the county mental health board, said
the forum was held to gather feedback about the proposed closure
and all comments made Monday will be sent to the Illinois Health
Facilities Planning Board. But Rose stressed that the county
mental health board has no jurisdiction over either KCH or the
state's planning board.
Several spoke Monday of the hardship that families will have
if they have to travel to see a loved one being treated in another
city, noting that the support of family, friends and clergy from
the community they call home can help with the healing process.
Others said closing the unit would send the wrong message to
the community about the importance of treating those who are
KishHealth System CEO Kevin Poorten said it was a "very
difficult decision" to ask the state to close the unit,
but stressed that the hospital is still committed to providing
mental health services to fit the needs of the community. He
noted that the number of people seeking mental health services
at KCH is up, and that $1.7 million has been spent during the
last three years on recruiting psychiatrists to come work at
KCH has provided inpatient care for mental illness for 33 years,
Poorten said, and had 16 beds when the unit opened in the 1970s.
The state reduced that number to eight beds in 1998 and reduced
it again to six beds when the new hospital opened in 2007, he
In recent years it has become difficult to staff the unit because
most psychiatrists and clinical staff now prefer to work in an
outpatient setting, hospital officials have said, and KCH is
unsure it can provide the breadth and depth of services needed
in the unit.
"We are a community hospital, and we have to be honest with
ourselves," Poorten said. "Sometimes we have limitations."
The Illinois Department of Public Health State Summary released
in October 2008 found there are 33 excess acute mental illness
beds in the geographical area that includes KCH and the hospital
has written agreements with five other hospitals to work toward
a seamless transition of patients, Poorten said.
But Eve Zahrndt, a registered nurse with the hospital's behavioral
health unit, said the unit provides excellent care and noted
that President Barack Obama's health care plan stresses providing
and improving services in a patient's community.
Donna Bennett, who spent seven years on the county's mental health
board and said she had a child who was mentally ill, said she
was appalled by the decision to close the unit. The mentally
ill are not a high priority for the state or the nation, she
said, and won't be for the county either if the hospital closes
"The mentally ill seldom are able to speak for themselves,
so I'm asking you, on their behalf, to reconsider," she