A 'transformational project': DuPage County eyes crisis hub to address mental health care needs
DuPage County envisions a center where people could go in times of crisis
Public health officials in DuPage County think they've found a way to improve mental health care that reduces emergency room visits, gets people the help they need and helps keep some facing arrest out of the county jail.
DuPage leaders last week reviewed plans for a behavioral health crisis hub at the county complex in Wheaton. The new facility, estimated to cost $20 million to $25 million, would serve as a triage center of sorts where patients can be assessed and provided a plan of action within 24 hours of their arrival. Unlike an emergency room that deals with a variety of health concerns, the crisis hub would focus solely on mental health and substance abuse care.
"What this center does is create a pathway to be assessed and triaged by mental health specialists and get linked to necessary services," said Karen Ayala, director of the DuPage County Health Department.
Calling it a "transformational project," Ayala said the crisis hub is the next logical step in the county's continuum of care for mental health needs.
DuPage's health department already offers a crisis line, serves as a National Suicide Prevention 988 call center and has a mobile crisis team to help address emergent mental health care needs.
The behavioral health crisis hub would add a much-needed place to go for residents experiencing a mental health crisis. The center would have a staff of physicians and mental health professionals who would work to assess and give patients a plan -- whether it's an appointment with a counselor or admittance to a mental health care facility or hospital -- before they leave.
"So many of our families and youth are struggling today, and they have nowhere to go, and they don't know what to do," DuPage County Chair Deborah Conroy said. "What this facility will provide is that space for them to come and have that soft handoff to make those connections for those families."
A $5 million state grant -- secured by Conroy when she was a state representative -- and a $1 million federal grant have helped push this project forward, Ayala said. She added the health department also anticipates using American Rescue Plan Act and building funds to help cover the project cost.
In June, the county board of health anticipates asking the DuPage County Board for funding, as well. Health officials hope to open the center in 2025.
Ayala and other officials have visited two similar facilities in Florida and Virginia. Though the DuPage crisis hub will not be a replica of either, it will adopt some features of both facilities to help meet regional needs.
"If you fall off the rails or never really got on the right track, this is a place to go to get you on the right track," Ayala said.
In Lake County, Waukegan-based nonprofit Independence Center offers similar services at the Living Room Wellness Center. The center, which receives county funding, opened in 2020 and expanded in 2021 to provide 24/7 services through grant funding obtained by the Lake County sheriff's and state's attorney's offices.
The Living Room Wellness Center in Waukegan offers crisis intervention and counseling services to Lake County residents in need. Additionally, through partnerships with county and municipal police, officers can bring people to the Living Room Wellness Center, where they can receive care, rather than taking those people to jail.
The center also offers basic needs such as healthy food, clean showers and transportation.
Exactly how DuPage County's behavioral health crisis hub will run still is being worked out. Ayala said a collaborative that includes the health department, law enforcement, area hospitals and regional mental health care providers, such as Linden Oaks and Edward Elmhurst Health, have been working to figure out an operational plan.
"We're excited to see DuPage County add this critical link in behavioral health services for the community," Edward Elmhurst Health said in a statement. "The more access to assistance means a better chance of individuals getting the appropriate care they need during mental health crises."
Last year alone, the county's crisis line received 30,433 calls, and 5,525 calls came through the 988 national suicide prevention hotline. In those cases, 94% of crisis line calls and 89% of the 988 calls were resolved through phone support.
Of the 2,314 calls the county's mobile crisis unit responded to, 47% resulted in stabilization, while 96% of 506 on-site assessments conducted in 2022 resulted in stabilization.
While anyone would be welcome at the center, law enforcement and health officials view it as a useful tool to get some people police officers come in contact with the help they need, rather than taking them to the county jail.
"There are many individuals who are truly in need of services and treatment," DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin said. "If we can get them these services and treatment, we're going to prevent criminal activity. ... Anything that improves public safety is something that we should support."