State to house detainees at Elgin Mental Health Center

Aportion of the Elgin Mental Health Center is set to house inmates from the Illinois Department of Corrections, according to a news release provided by the IDOC on Friday.

Up to 44 beds at the Elgin treatment center will be set aside as "a secure mental health facility, where patients who have been committed to IDOC custody by the courts, will receive short-term, psychiatric care," the release stated.

Illinois Department of Human Services patients housed in those two units will be moved to other locations, according to the agreement.

That is one area that state Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, said she hopes to verify with Gov. Bruce Rauner's office — if patients now receiving inpatient treatment on the clinical side will be able to remain at EMHC.

"If we do move them, where are they going to go?" Moeller said.

Moeller said that according to information she's received from the Human Services Department, there are 390 patients served at the EMHC — 341 in the forensic unit, and 57 in the civil unit.

That is also a concern for Karen Beyer, director at the Ecker Center for Mental Health. The Ecker Center refers patients who do not have health insurance to EMHC for inpatient treatment, adding that the facility is the only option for residents who are not eligible for Medicaid or who do not have private insurance.

EMHC houses a forensic unit for patients who are found not guilty in criminal court due to mental health problems.

Elgin city officials are expected to meet shortly to discuss what the additional secure units could mean for residents, Mayor David Kaptain said.

Once those two sections at EMHC are ready to admit inmates, both male and female inmates would be treated there, according to the intergovernmental agreement signed by the two state agencies.

According to the agreement, the change comes following the December settlement of a class action lawsuit against the state. In Rasho v. Baldwin, filed in 2007, the plaintiff claimed the state of Illinois did not provide adequate treatment for inmates diagnosed with serious mental illness.

The plaintiff sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the agreement, the IDOC would be responsible for staffing the 44 beds, including the inmate's treatment and health care.

In addition, the IDOC would pay to remodel the units, if needed, to bring them up to the standards needed for housing inmates, including fencing, gates, windows and doors, and guard stations.

"The goal is to help stabilize seriously mentally ill offenders who are having difficulty coping in the prison environment, improve their correctional outcomes, and increase safety for all offenders, IDOC staff, and the citizens of Illinois," the release stated.

"This is the most fundamental change that the state of Illinois is undertaking to try to solve a serious problem in its prison system," IDOC Director John Baldwin said in the release. "Prisons were not designed to be mental health facilities, but we must adjust to this reality. This new inpatient treatment program will allow us to provide focused care for seriously mentally ill offenders and help them deal with daily stressors of a prison environment."

The Rasho v. Baldwin settlement agreement, which was approved in May, also requires the IDOC to boost staffing levels, update its policies, ensure mental health professionals are included in disciplinary decisions for offenders on the mental health caseload, and bring four residential treatment units online at Dixon, Pontiac and Logan correctional centers and the former Illinois Youth Center in Joliet, the release stated.

The EMHC opened in 1872.

According to past Courier-News stories, the hospital opened as the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane with 250 beds. By 1990, it had 1,100 beds, according to Bill Briska, area historian and former EMHC employee.

By the 1940s, it covered a 1,138-acre area, from the east bank of the Fox River west to what is now Elgin Community College.

Janelle Walker is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.

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