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Behavioral Healthcare Champion: Kathe Dellacecca

July 18, 2016
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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Kathe Dellacecca

In less than two years since joining Sinai Health System, Kathe Dellacecca has made major strides in reshaping the way behavioral health services are delivered in some of Chicago’s most underserved urban areas.

In 2012, Sinai leaders completed a series of community needs assessments and determined that behavioral health would be the top priority in the hospital system’s strategic planning. In Dellacecca, Sinai found an executive who had traveled down this path before, albeit in a smaller, rural location. Dellacecca, a 25-year industry veteran, took on a similar challenge of revamping a hospital system’s behavioral healthcare programming during her six-plus years with Lakewood Health System, based in Staples, Minn.

“Creating services for underserved areas has always been a huge passion of mine,” says Dellacecca, who officially joined Sinai as system vice president for behavioral health in November 2014. “I’ve felt that one of my strengths is to be able to develop programming that meets the needs of the community—being able to listen to community members and align services to what they are looking for and need.”

Since Dellacecca came on board, progress at Sinai has been swift. The most noteworthy accomplishment thus far in her tenure has been the opening of Sinai’s crisis stabilization unit at its Holy Cross Hospital. The 24-hour outpatient observation unit is the first of its kind in the Chicagoland area. The program is designed to help facilitate getting patients in a psychiatric crisis out of the oftentimes chaotic environment of an emergency department and into a safe, therapeutic space where they can receive a rapid assessment and treatment. Patients can then be moved to a lower level of care.

The benefits of the crisis stabilization unit have been tangible. Prior to its July 2015 opening, psychiatric patients faced an emergency department wait time of 18 to 48 hours. Now, the wait is down to an average of just three hours, and 56% of patients are discharged to a lower level of care, reducing costs in the process.

The crisis stabilization unit at Holy Cross can serve up to 12 patients at a time and as of mid-June had served 914 patients in 2016. After its successful launch, the program will expand next spring, as Sinai opens a new larger unit that will increase capacity to 32 patients. The $4 million project will take the program’s footprint from 1,800 square feet at Holy Cross to 13,000.

Future plans

Dellacecca and her department aren’t sitting back in the meantime, however. A $4 million, 24-bed inpatient unit at Holy Cross is slated to open in September. Plus, through a partnership between Sinai and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, two programs are finding a home just across the street. In October 2014, Catholic Charities acquired the Sisters of St. Casimir Motherhouse property adjacent to Holy Cross. The building will be home to a Sinai community mental health center, which is slated for a July launch, and a 50-patient intensive outpatient program coming in the fall.

Partnerships are a key component of Dellacecca’s vision. In addition to Sinai’s work with Catholic Charities, the hospital system is also collaborating with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.

“Our goal is to create an entire continuum from housing and job training to intensive residential treatment for folks that are suffering from behavioral health,” she says. “We’re experts in some of that, but there are community partners that are experts in others.”

A nationally recognized partner will work with Sinai on an effort to integrate its behavioral health and primary care services over the next 18 months, with the official announcement coming soon, Dellacecca says.

Ultimately, Dellacecca says, a willingness to collaborate with other organizations—even competitors—can be the most effective way to achieve progress and better serve patients.

“We’re all in the business to help patients and help people get access to care,” Dellacecca says. “That’s why it’s so gratifying here at Sinai to be able to pull these partners in and say, ‘Let’s work together.’ There’s no point in trying to go down the same road separately.”