A public hearing was held Thursday evening in Belleville to get input about a proposed regional mental health center in Centreville.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board heard public comments during the hearing at Belleville's City Hall. Fourteen people spoke and others gave written statements to the board to consider during the process of reviewing the Certificate of Need applications presented to the state by both St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville and Touchette Regional Hospital in Centreville. The hospitals, along with Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation, have proposed a new 30-bed behavioral health services center at the hospital, which would combine the mental health care services of both hospitals into one location. St. Elizabeth's Hospital averages 18 to 20 patients a day at its behavioral health center, and Touchette Regional Hospital's 12-bed mental health center has seven to eight patients on average a day.
When the new center is built, there will be 30 beds available for inpatient use. Construction of the facility will take about two years and Hospital Sister Health Systems in Springfield has guaranteed a $10 million construction loan to build the center.
Maryann Reese, president and CEO of St. Elizabeth's Hospital, was unable to attend the hearing, but Dr. Shelly Harkins, the hospital's chief medical officer, read Reese's comments.
"This collaboration represents two health care organizations coming together to better serve our community," she stated. "While St. Elizabeth's behavioral health unit delivers high quality, compassionate care to patients, and has been successful in bringing new efficiencies to its program, we determined that the best way to sustain this vital service to the community was to collaborate with Touchette so behavioral health care could be provided at a Center of Excellence."
Four of the fourteen speakers expressed concern about moving the mental health services from Belleville to Centreville.
Dr. Maria Scarbrough, an emergency room physician at Memorial Hospital in Belleville, said she is against the proposed plan.
"I am gravely concerned about the reduction of the number of mental health beds in our area," she said. "I already have difficulty finding beds for mental health patients who come into the ER. I think, as a member of this community, not enough time was spent researching this project to assure a vulnerable and already misunderstood population not be abandoned."
Phil Silsby, a Belleville alderman, said he believes the transfer of St. Elizabeth's mental health services out of Belleville is a precursor to the hospital leaving the community entirely.
Dr. Randy Jung, the medical director and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at St. Elizabeth's, said the plan is a good one for the region.
"St. Elizabeth's plans to work with Touchette Regional Hospital to help it create a Regional Mental Health Center of Excellence at Touchette are an example to two health care providers coming together to better serve our community," he said. "Having one strong mental health care provider -- Touchette -- will be good for the region."
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board will accept written comments until 9 a.m. Wednesday. Comments can be sent to: Attn: Courtney Avery, administrator, Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, 525 W. Jefferson St., Second Floor, Springfield, Ill., 62761-0001.
The board is expected to review and consider the applications on Sept. 24.