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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

OSF looks to build largest mental health hospital in downstate Illinois

Jeff Smudde

OSF HealthCare is seeking regulatory approval to build a 100-bed psychiatric facility in Peoria. It would be the largest adult psychiatric hospital in Illinois south of Chicago.

In this edition of Sound Health, OSF's director of behavioral health physician services, Dr. Samuel Sears, explains the facility would help address a major shortage of psychiatric beds across the region.

“Every one of the hospitals that has an inpatient unit is very frequently full and ends up having to send individuals pretty significant distances, often even to the Chicagoland area where there are more beds available,” Sears said.

Sears added care close to home helps families stay more involved in treatment plans.

Sears said OSF has seen more patients in crisis since the COVID pandemic, and that has stressed the system more.

US HealthVest history

The for-profit company working with OSF HealthCare to build a psychiatric hospital in Peoria faced multiple health and safety violations at a hospital it runs in Washington State. The problems at Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital in Marysville, Washington, prompted that state to reject New York-based U.S. HealthVest's bid to build another hospital.

After media reports surfaced about the problems surrounding Smokey Point, a Massachusetts health care company backed out of plans to partner with U.S. HealthVest on a mental health facility there. Inspectors in Washington reported a common complaint from Smokey Point workers was that the facility was understaffed.

Dr. Samuel Sears
Dr. Samuel Sears

U.S. HealthVest would be majority owner of the mental health hospital in Peoria, Sears said.

Sears said he could not speak to the alleged violations at Smokey Point, but said it’s not uncommon for inspectors to find areas to remediate or fix at any health care facility.

“I would never downplay any findings that have been found in various states, but I will say part of the challenge is there is always evolution of what needs have to been met in terms of satisfying inspections,” said Sears, adding OSF has sent patients to U.S. HealthVest's facilities in Chicago and have had no problems.

“The facilities within Illinois have been (given) excellent care. I see no reason that would not continue,” said Sears, adding one of U.S. HealthVest's mental health hospitals in Chicago is one of the few in Illinois that can provide a dual diagnosis for mental health and substance abuse treatment for Medicaid patients.

Sears said U.S. HealthVest will handle staff hiring at the psychiatric facility because for-profit companies are able to pay staff more. He said that's significant given the shortage of behavioral health workers.

“It can be difficult in this market right now to get a high degree of staffing, having to follow nonprofit principles,” Sears said.

Sears said the hospital, which would be built on OSF-owned property on Illinois Route 9 near other OSF HealthCare facilities, would generate about 200 jobs.

Faith treatment

As a Catholic health care organization, Sears said OSF HealthCare will make faith counseling and resources available to any patient in need of psychiatric treatment.

“That’s something we don’t shy away from,” Sears said. “We are happy to work with them to add that pillar of faith as part of their treatment, but that’s not something we are pushing on any individual that doesn’t want that as part of their treatment either.”

Sears said he considers OSF’s faith commitment also is embodied in the care if provides to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay.

OSF hopes to have the facility open by late 2024 or early 2025.

A spokesperson said OSF does not yet have a cost estimate for the project.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.