DuPage to break ground on mental health facility

By the numbers

20,000: People served by the National Alliance on Mental Illness-DuPage during 2013.

90 percent: Anticipated savings, relative to emergency room costs, offered by the “living room” feature planned for the new community health center in Wheaton.

6.6 percent: DuPage County residents living below the poverty line.

16: Residents in the two group homes operated by NAMI-DuPage.

19 percent: Segment of the U.S. population living with mental illness.

Sources: National Alliance on Mental Illness-DuPage, National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Census Bureau

A ceremonial turning over of dirt near Naperville this week will carry deeper meaning than usual.

Public health officials and advocates for those with mental illness will come together at 3 p.m. Thursday for a ritual groundbreaking at the site of a new $11 million community center the DuPage County Health Department will construct over the coming year next door to its existing headquarters in Wheaton.

A partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness-DuPage, the undertaking will put into place a unique facility intended to create an environment where mental health services and other integrated care are provided community-wide. It’s an approach that, officials say, is ground-breaking.

Although actor Robin Williams’ apparent suicide Monday after a long struggle with depression and substance abuse has made headlines this week, local agencies have understood the need for a broad-based approach to psychological well-being for a long while.

Health Department Executive Director Karen Ayala said at an event held to highlight the center plans in June that it’s critical to include among the pillars of public health an “intentional focus on mental health issues.” Proactive response, lower-cost approaches and collaborative teamwork play into that.

The Alliance’s local arm has been involved in Naperville for some time already. The organization operates a group home in the city, and sends experienced volunteers to offer support for parents of teens and young adults receiving inpatient treatment at Linden Oaks Hospital, the behavioral health division of Edward Hospital.

Linden Oaks President Gina Sharp sees the Wheaton community center as a positive development in the growing continuum of assistance for the estimated 19 percent of the population that struggles with mental illness, according to National Institute of Mental Health.

“It is very beneficial for patients, family members and even some of our staff to know that when they leave Linden Oaks, there are resources in the community to help them as they recover,” Sharp said.

Among the cutting-edge features in the new center will be The Living Room, designed as an alternative to the emergency room for those experiencing a mental health crisis. The peer-driven counseling services will avert a deeper crisis by providing a safe, calm setting where people can decompress before the circumstances worsen, and will come at a cost of about $300 — roughly one-tenth the bill for a trip to the ER.

The center also is expected to help those with mental illness work through their troubles in a way that helps them stay out of the criminal justice system. Angela Adkins, executive director of NAMI-DuPage, noted that keeping a prisoner locked up costs taxpayers about $40,000 annually.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the segment of the prison population that is mentally ill ranges from 45 percent in federal penitentiaries to 64 percent in local jails.

“It’s a very expensive way to treat the mentally ill,” Adkins said.

The new center is planned to address the well-being of the entire community. It will provide programs and services centered around wellness initiatives and recovery that are anchored in support, socialization and recreation — particularly for those who are uninsured or underinsured.

The Health Department’s 24-hour crisis services will be moved from Lombard to the new center once it is completed in fall 2015, and vocational training and psychosocial rehabilitation programs now conducted in the Transitional Services Center in Wheaton will be relocated there as well. Both of those existing facilities will be sold, with the proceeds going to help pay for the new 30,000-square-foot center. The Health Department also has funded the project by increasing its service capacity over the past few years, under a plan approved and overseen by the Board of Health.

Schedule of events

The groundbreaking will be at 3 p.m. Thursday in the lower level of the DuPage County Health Department, 111 N. County Farm Road in Wheaton. Brief remarks will be delivered at 3:30 p.m. by Karen Ayala, the department’s executive director; Linda Kurzawa, president of the Board of Health; and Dan Cronin, chairman of the County Board. The symbolic shoveling of dirt, which also will involve members of the NAMI-DuPage board and the Board of Health, is scheduled at 4 p.m.

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By the numbers

20,000: People served by the National Alliance on Mental Illness-DuPage during 2013.

90 percent: Anticipated savings, relative to emergency room costs, offered by the “living room” feature planned for the new community health center in Wheaton.

6.6 percent: DuPage County residents living below the poverty line.

16: Residents in the two group homes operated by NAMI-DuPage.

19 percent: Segment of the U.S. population living with mental illness.

Sources: National Alliance on Mental Illness-DuPage, National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Census Bureau

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