Toya’s symptoms built up over time.
The 38-year-old mother of five from Englewood had to deal with six deaths in her family in eight years — including those of her mother and two sisters — as well as her own congestive heart failure and bipolar disorder.
Her problems began to spiral. When her son’s struggles to cope landed him at Hartgrove Hospital, she decided to seek help.
But the closest mental health clinic was on the West Side, two hours by bus from her South Side home.
“When I’d have to go to Mount Sinai Hospital, it was really hard,” she says. “I couldn’t get back in time to pick up my daughter from school.”
Now, Sinai Health System — which operates Mount Sinai, Sinai Children’s Hospital and Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital in North Lawndale on the West Side, as well as Holy Cross Hospital on the Southwest Side — is aiming to help fill that gap in mental health services, with a $10 million plan to improve access to care for people like Toya.
Sinai’s plans call for providing mental health triage services through Holy Cross, which it bought from the Sisters of St. Casimir in 2012. The plans include:
• An outpatient clinic that recently opened across from Holy Cross and by January will see as many as 500 patients a week.
• A 24-bed inpatient unit that’s set to begin accepting patients Nov. 11.
• And a 32-bed “crisis-stabilization” unit now under construction.
“Within our service area, there have been a number of programs that have shut down over the last several years,” says Kathe Dellacecca, vice president of behavioral health for Sinai Health System. “Sinai’s board and leadership have made a decision that it was not OK for those services to be gone from this community.
“When you look at the violence and the trauma and some of the social determinants affecting behavior — like housing, jobs and food —all of those things affect communities we serve at a higher level,” Dellececca says. “When you take behavioral health out of the community and have all these other things going on, it’s a bad combination. People shouldn’t have to take 12 buses to get to care.”
Toya already is taking advantage of that. “I’m really excited I can go right here to Holy Cross,” she says.
The new clinic shares space with a Catholic Charities outpost.
“Integrated care is the new model Illinois is trying to transform into — primary and mental health care under the same roof,” says Kathy Donahue, vice president of Catholic Charities. “But here it will be threefold, adding social services. This could become the model.”
Nationwide, federal and state budgets hit hard by the recession slashed an estimated $1.6 billion from non-Medicaid state mental health funding between 2009 and 2011, experts say. Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed six of the city’s 12 community mental health centers — clinics in Auburn-Gresham, Back of the Yards, Logan Square, Morgan Park, Rogers Park and Woodlawn — to plug his 2012 budget, triggering protests. The same year, the state closed two psychiatric hospitals in Tinley Park and Rockford. The state’s mental health-care system already was struggling even before the budget standoff in Springfield left many social service providers with growing waiting lists and difficulties keeping their doors open.
In Chicago, police officers encountering mentally ill suspects will now be able to bring them to Sinai’s 24-hour stabilization unit. That’s far preferable to just taking them to the nearest hospital emergency room, says Dr. Sharad Koirala, interim chief medical officer at the new unit.
“E.R. departments are not designed for people in behavioral crisis,” Koirala says. “Once the medical is cleared, these people need community services or inpatient hospitalization. And we don’t have enough of both.
“Very common, and sad, is when people want help, and we recommend what they need, but they’re unable to access it,” Koirala says. “This is a population where everything’s a struggle. They don’t have a car, at times don’t have the money to take two buses and, because they cannot make appointments, they’re back in the E.R.”