About Northwestern’s Desire to Acquire KishHealth

I want to thank the DeKalb County Citizens for Better Mental Health Care (CBMH) for keeping abreast of these developments and getting the word out.

In fact, if it weren’t for the ad hoc CBMH, there wouldn’t even have been a public hearing on the matter; hearings are not automatic and must be requested of the supervising state board.

This post combines facts from the application itself (the proposal requires approval of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board), my observations of the September 24 public hearing, and reports from CBMH co-chairs Barry Schrader and Eileen Dubin obtained at a press conference earlier this week.

Mergers vs. Acquisitions

Many people use the words interchangeably, but there’s a distinction between mergers and acquisitions and Northwestern definitely wants to acquire KishHealth. From the application:

In the proposed transaction, Northwestern Memorial HealthCare (NMHC) will become the sole corporate member of KishHealth System (KishHealth). As such, NMHC will have the power and authority to govern, direct and oversee the property, funds, business and affairs of KishHealth.

It’s a change of ownership that, regardless of the appointment of a few local people to serve on the new board, would effectively end local control over the second-largest employer in the county.

CBMH points out that when Kish acquired the DeKalb Clinic, the Clinic employees lost all seniority. In the case of staff cutbacks, they’ll be the first to go. What is there stopping the same thing from happening to Kish staff?

For that matter, what would stop Northwestern from closing some departments or facilities? Answer: apparently, not much. This, from the “affirmations” attached as appendices to the application (my emphasis):

[Northwestern] and KishHealth do not anticipate any reductions to the scope of services or levels of care currently provided at Kishwaukee Community Hospital within 24 months after the affiliation.

Same goes for Valley West Community Hospital in Sandwich.

Advocacy vs. Opposition

CBMH at first remained neutral on the proposed acquisition and instead concentrated on advocating for the return of in-patient mental health care as part of any transition. DeKalb County hasn’t had in-patient beds since Kishwaukee Hospital closed its behavioral health unit in 2009.

But during the public hearing on September 24, Northwestern and Kish officials made clear that patients requiring in-patient mental health services post-acquisition would travel to Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, which CBMH says is farther than most patients have to go now.

With the discovery that Northwestern has no intention of restoring local in-patient services and would additionally require a longer trip to access them, CBMH now actively opposes the acquisition.

Furthermore, CBMH calculates that a planned expansion of Central DuPage Hospital’s behavioral unit from 15 to 48 beds will be needed by DuPage County communities and DeKalb County residents would likely find there’s actually no room for us there.

Leadership vs. Clout

The DeKalb County Mental Health (“708”) Board and the Health and Human Services Committee of the DeKalb County Board each prepared a letter to the Health Facilities Board that did not explicitly support or oppose the acquisition plan per se, but rather more generally expressed support of a decision that would bring expanded mental health services to the county.

The letter from the Health and Human Services Committee, vetted also by the Executive Committee and submitted to the full DeKalb County Board for approval, was removed from consideration upon a motion from the board’s vice chair.

CBMH, which had a presentation planned for the meeting, is looking into the Open Meetings Act implications of the maneuver because no public comment was allowed on the item.

Meanwhile, CBMH is alleging that the finalized letter from the Mental Health Board that was sent by its chair, Charles Rose, is not the same version that was approved by the board. Schrader says he’s waiting for the next meeting to see if that board will censure its chair for abuse of authority.

CBMH attributes the murder and mayhem of these letters to pressure from the KishHealth board of directors. “Two phone calls were made by [chair Tom] Matya,” said Schrader during the press conference Wednesday.

What’s Next

Although the deadline for written opinions of the application has passed, the Health Facilities Board will meet next month in Bolingbrook to further consider the matter. CBMH has requested the board investigate and publish the names of any individuals who own real estate in the name of Kishwaukee Hospital before the meeting takes place, in pushing back against Kish’s reflexive secrecy.

The board meets the morning of November 17 in Bolingbrook.

Letters from organizations and individuals should eventually be posted here (scroll down to the “Exemptions” heading). While you’re waiting, I’ve posted letters from CBMH and local law enforcement on Facebook.