UPDATED: A major groundbreaking is set for 2 PM this Wednesday on the Silver Cross Hospital campus in New Lenox. It was earlier this year that a major announcement was made concerning collaboration between Silver Cross Hospital and US Health Vest for the new Silver Oaks Hospital. The planned facility will be a 100 bed psychiatric hospital at the Silver Cross site in New Lenox, solving a major problem that the Will County Health Department's Behavioral Health unit deals with on a daily basis.
The Behavioral Health unit's SASS Program (Screening and Support Services) is currently on pace to screen more children from age two to 20 this year than last year, with the 2016 total having been 1,571. When a child is appearing to be in a possible psychiatric crisis situation; perhaps at home, in school, or in other places; the SASS Program can be reached at their crisis line (1-800-345-9049). Upon screening, the child is sometimes determined to need hospitalization. This is where a major problem has existed for many years, and will continue to for at least one more entire school year; as Silver Oaks Hospital is expected to be ready in late 2018 or early 2019.
Health Department Child and Adolescents Programming Manager Michelle Zambrano says sometimes only six to ten beds are available locally, causing the patient to need to be transferred outside of Will County. "The child is already going through a traumatic situation, and then it takes about 60 to 90 minutes for screening and assessment. If we have to send them to another county, that can be a 90 minute ambulance ride, plus more wait time once they arrive in Kankakee or Cook County or wherever they go. The new Silver Oaks Hospital facility will take that entire timeline and cut it in half."
Zambrano says having the child hospitalized nearby will be easier on families as well, though she does give the out-of-county hospitals credit for their efforts to help. "The facilities we work with outside Will County have been wonderful. They accommodate families by easing up on visitation hours. They might even come and get family members in their little vans for visitation, or give the patients greater access to phones if they are unable to come and visit that day."
But Zambrano says there will be no substitute for having the young patients be able to stay in Will County. One example might be more famillies taking advantage of Illinois' still rather new Specialized Family Support Program. "Sometimes," Zambrano explained, "when it's time for a child to be released and sent home, the family will say, 'I'm sorry, we are not comfortable with them at home. We have other children and we think it is too dangerous. What can we do?' If families refuse to allow their child to come home, they can end up in the DCFS foster care system."
The Specialized Family Support Program acts as a transition, with case workers visiting the released child at their home to see how things are going. Zambrano says families will probably be more encouraged to go this route if their child is hospitalized nearby. "I can definitely see that being a factor. If a family can visit their child more often and actually see their progress and have hope, they might be more apt to use the program."
For now, however, the wait for the completion of the Silver Oaks facility continues. And while the SASS Program already deals with an average daily caseload of 64, Zambrano pointed out graphs that show the obvious: activity will go up once school starts again.
"There just seems to be less resiliency these days, as society is a lot harder than when we were kids," Zambrano stated. "If we were having trouble at school, the home was our sanctuary. But now someone can be bullied by way of social media and never really escape."
Zambrano also pointed out that younger children are having more problems these days, as they try to "process" everything they come across. "We are often dealing with children as young as seven or eight-years-old. They have access to so much dangerous information. Back in the 70s, there was the "Family Viewing Hour" (struck down by a U S District Judge in 1976; rarely followed voluntarily any more) where you knew children would not hear wild sexual innuendo between 7 and 8 PM. Now, you just never know. And then there's everything they're exposed to in music and social media."
So as the world continues as it is today, Zambrano says all her SASS assessors and case workers will continue the status quo until the facility offers some local assistance. "It's all we can do, just cross our fingers and hope for the best. We could always use more help."
And of course, as mentioned so many times before, Illinois' budget problems can keep more help from coming or take away what a department already has. "Right now," Zambrano says, "I have eight screeeners in the program. I'd love to have three or four more. Sometimes spending an hour with a person in the program instead of 45 minutes can make all the difference. We would love to see everyone longer and more often."
But for now, Zambrano and the entire Will County Health Department Behavioral Health Division will continue to advocate for their patients the best that they can, and look forward to Silver Oaks' opening sometime during the 2018-2019 school year.