By Senator Paul Schimpf, Representatives Jerry Costello and Terri Bryant
On Monday, August 6, we, the elected state officials in the vicinity of Chester, Ill., held a face to face meeting with the Director of the Illinois Department of Human Services’ (IDHS) Division of Mental Health (DMH), Diana Knaebe; Central Office Staff; the Chester Mental Health Center (CMHC) leadership team; and other IDHS leaders. The meeting occurred on the grounds of the Chester Mental Health Center and lasted for several hours. We have written this article to inform you of the purpose of this meeting and what outcomes we expect as a result.
As legislators we are committed to ensuring that this facility remains open and operates in a safe manner. We requested this meeting in response to questions our constituents raised over mandatory overtime practices at the center.
Chester Mental Health Center is located on 28 acres of land north of Chester. The center is designed to provide care and treatment for all adult males in the State of Illinois who require a greater degree of structure and security than can be provided in any of the other state mental health facilities. Chester Mental Health Center is fully accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations.
The facility has historically gone through challenges with staffing and resources over the years, but for the past three months it has been running under new leadership. It was important for us to visit and learn more about the new ideas and increased efforts to address staffing shortages and violence prevention.
IDHS leaders highlighted the trainings and violence prevention efforts currently in process to help staff successfully manage Chester’s patient population. As of Aug. 9, Chester serves 273 patients. Of those patients, 89 were civilly committed, and 184 were committed by the state’s courts. Of those commitments, 154 patients require maximum security care and 30 need medium security.
We appreciate the candor of Dir. Knaebe and her staff during our meeting on Aug. 6. We are also grateful for the recent efforts by IDHS to recruit professionals to fill Chester’s vacancies and ensure its ongoing success. On June 20, the team hosted a community job fair in which 150 interested applicants attended and were able to meet with staff and management.
Several facts are clear to us. First, the staff at Chester Mental Health Center are hard workers who are dedicated to their jobs. Second, DMH and its leadership team, value the critical services and quality care that staff provide to their patients each day. Third, CMHC serves a unique population of patients and will continue to be an integral component of IDHS’s vision and mission. We also believe that streamlining Central Management Services’ (CMS) hiring procedures and modifying the center’s labor contract to allow for an increase in staffing will improve both the safety of the facility and the quality of life for its staff.
As legislators, we pledge our bipartisan support for this facility and its efforts to fill the active positions it currently has open. Interested applicants should contact CMHC at 618-826-4571 for more information about available job openings.