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Advocate South Suburban to open unit designed to improve outcomes for residents needing mental health care

The SouthtownStar - 12/8/2023

Dec. 8—Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest will open the doors Tuesday on a $20 million behavioral health unit expected to provide greater access to care for adults with mental health issues.

The 27-bed unit features private patient rooms, recreational spaces and a fitness center and is expected to provide inpatient services to 800 patients annually, according to Advocate Health Care.

People with mental health issues might find themselves in a hospital emergency room, facing a wait of hours or even days before being admitted, said Dr. David Kemp, medical director of behavioral services for Advocate.

"I hear countless times about the barriers they encounter when trying to access health care for behavioral health services," said Kemp, a psychiatrist who sees patients at Advocate Health'sChrist Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

He said several psychiatrists, nurses, therapists and Advocate Health leadership team members gave input over the past year into construction of the unit at the Hazel Crest hospital.

"There was a tremendous amount of work done to bring this to fruition," Kemp said.

Even when a bed becomes available for somebody in need of mental health care, that bed might be in a hospital well outside the south suburbs or in northwest Indiana, Kemp said.

"That puts a burden on families who want to come visit their family member," he said.

Marianne Bithos, president of the south suburban chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, echoed Kemp's views.

"I hope this will relieve some of that," she said. "It's going to help more families."

Kemp said obstacles for inpatient care are not just in the Chicago area. Such limitations in accessing behavioral health care exist across the country.

With the opening of the Hazel Crest behavioral health unit, the inpatient psychiatric unit in place at Christ in Oak Lawn will be relocated. There will be more beds available in Hazel Crest than at Christ, and they will be private single-patient rooms, something the Christ setting didn't afford, said Kemp and Renee Donaldson, project lead for the South Suburban unit.

Along with individual rooms, the space includes common areas with televisions and bookshelves, and a fitness area.

Inpatient services are available to adults 18 and older.

Apart from inpatient services, Advocate expects an additional 5,000 patients could receive care each year through partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient mental health services.

Both Kemp and Bithos said once discharged from inpatient care, it's important for people with mental illness to receive support outside of a hospital setting.

"The partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient is meant to fill that gap once a patient is discharged," Kemp said. "The patient might need more structured support and we're investing in that kind of programming as well."

That "continuum of care is the most important part," said Bithos, the parent of an adult daughter living with schizophrenia.

Kemp said help such as group therapy in an outpatient setting would be part of the aftercare services.

Bithos said patient outcomes improve once they have access to programs after being discharged.

"The success stories are what is going to help people living with mental illness," she said. "Letting these people know they can get on with their lives."

mnolan@tribpub.com

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