Village fines eating disorder clinic $75K after frequent emergency calls

Officials say they were falsely assured that the clinic would not be treating a high number of patients at risk of suicide


Anna Kim
Pioneer Press Newspapers, Suburban Chicago, Ill.

NORTHBROOK, Ill. — After Northbrook police and fire departments reported a higher-than-expected number of emergency calls from an eating disorder clinic, the village discovered it was treating a population of patients outside the scope of its allowed zoning use and imposed a fine of more than $75,000, officials said.

The Eating Recovery Center, at 4201 Lake Cook Road, is in an office zoning district, and the clinic had to request a special use permit for its operations before it opened. In 2018, clinic representatives had applied to treat patients with eating disorders, including those who also have mood and anxiety disorders.

The village of Northbrook will fine an eating disorder clinic $75,000 after the village's fire and police departments responded to an unexpectedly high number of emergency calls at the clinic. Officials say the clinic violated zoning rules by not applying for a special permit to treat high-risk psychiatric patients. (Photo/Village of Northbrook, Illinois Facebook)
The village of Northbrook will fine an eating disorder clinic $75,000 after the village's fire and police departments responded to an unexpectedly high number of emergency calls at the clinic. Officials say the clinic violated zoning rules by not applying for a special permit to treat high-risk psychiatric patients. (Photo/Village of Northbrook, Illinois Facebook)

Officials say they were assured that psychiatric patients without eating disorders whose care might involve frequent emergency calls would not be treated there.

But after the Northbrook Fire Department reported frequent emergency calls from the clinic, due to clients’ suicidal thoughts and anxiety, the village found that patients with mood and anxiety disorders who do not also have eating disorders were being treated there.

Though there is an overlap in the two patient populations, the zoning code is different for each kind of clinical care, according to Michaela Kohlstedt, Northbrook’s deputy director of planning and services. If they had intended to treat that patient population, they would have had to apply for another special use permit at the time, Kohlstedt said.

“We want to help people out, we want businesses in our community, we want to serve our residents,” Trustee Kathryn Ciesla said. “But at the same time, if people don’t follow the (village zoning) rules, it’s not fair to the other people that do.”

Representatives from the Eating Recovery Center could not be reached for comment. The Eating Recovery Clinic is a treatment company based in Colorado with locations all over the country, according to its website.

Emergency services received 18 calls for service in the first 22 weeks of the clinic’s operations, according to a village report. The village needs to “make allowances” for businesses that may have a high number of emergency calls because it ties up services and costs the village money, Ciesla said.

“If we would have known, we could have better addressed the burden to our fire department and our police departments,” Ciesla said.

Trustees discussed the issue at a March 10 board meeting, where several said they felt “misled” and “duped” because the Eating Recovery Center assured them they would only treat patients with eating disorders, and that there would not be a high number of psychiatric patients at risk for suicide.

“We have processes here that are there for a reason, to go through the channels, to tell us exactly what you’re going to be putting in your facility,” Trustee Muriel Collison told a representative from the clinic at the March 10 board meeting. “I feel like this was a huge bait and switch.”

Anne Marie O’Melia, the medical director of adult services of Eating Recovery Clinic, clarified at the March 10 meeting one-third of patients at this clinic are psychiatric patients without eating disorders, and the other two-thirds are being treated for eating disorders. She said in a letter submitted to the village that the two patient populations “benefit from much (of) the same treatment interventions.”

“During our initial hearings and in the materials provided, we intended to make certain that was accurately described,” O’Melia wrote in a letter submitted to the village. “However, after receiving the village letter and discussing with our landlord, we understand and are embarrassed (by) any confusion.”

The Northbrook location provides “non-emergent residential care," O’Melia said in the letter. O’Melia said the clinic began using a private ambulance service on Feb. 10, and the agreement with the village stipulates that “non-emergency transports of patients” must be made by private ambulance companies.

“We are not an inpatient psychiatric hospital and recognize that these terms create confusion,” O’Melia said. “However, we also understand that this confusion is the result of more frequent use of the 911 system than we anticipated.”

O’Melia noted that the clinic is in full compliance with the Joint Commission on Mental Health’s accreditation standards and state licensing requirements. Other requirements of the special use permit, including the number of patients and staff, were followed, she said.

Trustees voted April 14 to come to a settlement allowing the clinic to continue treating patients.

The clinic agreed to apply for an amendment to allow mood and anxiety patients to be treated at the facility, and to pay $5,120 to reimburse the village for emergency response, $20,000 to reimburse the village for legal fees, and a $50,000 citation, which the village will donate to a nonprofit mental health organization that serves the Northbrook community.

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©2020 Pioneer Press Newspapers (Suburban Chicago, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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