After three years of construction, the new Elmhurst Memorial Hospital is almost finished, and the minds that created that $450 million structure are finally able to turn their attention to the next project: the old hospital campus on Berteau Avenue.
Plans for the 11-acre site, tucked in a quiet neighborhood just east of downtown, are in their infancy. But a meeting Wednesday of hospital officials and the Elmhurst Neighborhood Advisory Group, which was formed more than 15 years ago to resolve any conflicts between the hospital and the neighbors, drew residents who have concerns about the future use of the Berteau campus.
“What you will hear tonight is exactly what the board of the hospital has heard, and they just heard about it two weeks ago,” said Tom Coffey, CEO of the Haymarket Group, consultant for the hospital. “We are still in the very early stages of this discussion. One thing I can tell you is (Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare) is not going to sell this property. It’s going to be used for health care purposes only.”
The planning team of EMHC, owner of the property, is mapping out a way to renovate the western portion of the building and continue to provide many of the services currently offered on Berteau. Plans are for medical offices, an immediate care center, occupational health services, a cancer center, outpatient services and behavioral health services.
Eventually, much of the building, aside from the west wing (the Magnusen Pavilion), will be demolished. New construction is planned to house a continuum of care for seniors, from quasi-independent living, to assisted living, to skilled care. But hospital officials haven’t even identified a company to provide that senior care yet, so new construction is a couple of years down the road.
“We know senior services are needed here, but we won’t have a plan until we get a partner,” Coffey said.
“It will be a much more beautiful place and much more accommodating to the community than what we have now,” he said.
But it’s not the look of the campus that has residents concerned. The real issue that surfaced Wednesday is the hospital’s plan for behavioral health services, which are scheduled to expand in 12 to 18 months, officials said.
The hospital has been providing in-patient behavioral health services at the Berteau campus for decades. In the 1980s, the unit was larger than it is now, because it accommodated adolescents, too. But hospital officials felt adolescents were not properly being served there because they could not adequately separate the adult and adolescent populations. So, for about 10 years now, adolescents have been transported out of the community for in-patient services elsewhere. The 18-bed, locked adult unit remains in use at Berteau.
The plan is to bring in-patient behavioral health services for adolescents back to Berteau by adding six beds.
"Much of what they’re doing for adolescents has been really called for by (Elmhurst Unit District 205)," Coffey said. "Now, they have to send the children out of the community."
Fourteen additional beds also are planned for geriatric behavioral health care. The expansion of beds wouldn’t happen until the west wing of the building is renovated.
Outpatient behavioral health services also are planned. Residents were concerned that patients with drug problems or violent tendencies might come in contact with children waiting at bus stops or at East End Pool.
“There are hundreds of kids that live within a five-block radius. How do we know they’re not going to be waiting for a bus … and run into these people?,” one woman asked. “Do we take matters into our own hands? Are we on our own?”
Coffey and Pam Dunley, vice president of patient care and behavioral health services for Elmhurst Memorial, said patients seen there would not be dangerous. Patients visiting for outpatient services are primarily local residents suffering from depression, bi-polar disorder and substance abuse, Dunley said.
“They are not patients that are chronically mentally ill,” she said. “We do not serve patients that have significant drug issues, such as heroin, because we do not offer a methadone clinic. These are primarily people who have impairments in their lives, who are functional and they need to get back to their full capacity.”
All patients are screened, and anyone with a serious criminal record or tendency toward aggression would be sent elsewhere, she said.
At any one time, there might be up to 20 patients at the facility for a weekly therapy session or group session. Outpatient services such as this have been going on in Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare’s downtown facility for years without a problem, Dunley said.
“We screen our patients for the appropriate level of care,” said Teddi Krochman, director of behavioral health services. “We may see people arrested for DUI, shoplifting, but we will not see people who have felony arrests, robbery, assault and battery.
“These are people who live and work in our communities. If you look around the room, this is what our patient population looks like.”
Third Ward Alderman Susan Rose attended the meeting, along with 3rd Ward Alderman Michael Bram, and 4th Ward aldermen Steve Hipskind and Kevin York. Rose, who said she used to work at a psychiatric facility, lives very close to the hospital. The facility will be treating “me and my family and you and your family,” she said.
“We’re not talking about heroin addicts who are going to be shooting up on the corner of Berteau and Third,” Rose said. “You should be more concerned about a sexual predator living down the street. That’s my neighborhood. This is not a population that is violent. If it were, I’d be putting the for-sale sign on my house tomorrow.”
As far as in-patient treatment, the hospital has been doing that at Berteau all along, officials said. The plan is to add beds for adolescents and seniors, not for the adults, Coffey said.
“Typically, even our in-patients are not a danger to others,” said Coffey. “They are typically suicidal.”
Residents also asked how they could be sure the facility wouldn’t expand further.
“It is not our focus to grow,” Dunley said. “There are plenty of big, behavioral health programs around.”
As for a timetable, EMHC will file an application with the city of Elmhurst after mid-May. The community will be notified via signs on campus and letters from City Hall regarding a public hearing. The matter is expected to go before the Elmhurst Zoning and Planning Commission in June. After the ZPC makes a recommendation, the issue goes to the city's Development, Planning and Zoning Committee, then to the City Council for approval.
Coffey said they hope to get a building permit and start renovations in September.
“We want the community to be as up to date as possible, and we want your feedback,” he said. “We will continue to work with you on a regular basis to answer those questions as best we can.
“This is just the beginning of our dialog. If the people of Elmhurst are not happy about what we’re doing, we can’t care for people.”