Possible new owner plans to preserve ‘healing’ spirit of Belleville King’s House retreat

·5 min read
Derik Holtmann/dholtmann@bnd.com

The leader of the King’s House Catholic retreat near the west side of Belleville said the center is being sold but believes the “healing” spirit of the bucolic site will continue with the new owners.

Two Florida men plan to buy King’s House and open a residential treatment center for adults seeking mental health care on the heavily forested land. It could be open late this year or early next year.

A special use permit for the proposal was approved by the St. Clair County Board Monday night. The developers now hope to get approval from the state and an independent accreditation group later this year.

The Catholic organization that owns the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, the U.S. Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, announced last year that it was going to sell the King’s House Retreat and Renewal Center after operating the site for about 72 years. The Missionary Oblates will begin hosting retreats at the Shrine off Illinois 15.

The Rev. Salvador Gonzalez, the director of King’s House, said he and other leaders with the Missionary Oblates are happy the center will remain “a place of healing.”

“I hope people see the benefit of it,” he said.

Several residents spoke against the plan during a St. Clair County Zoning Board of Appeals on March 7 when they raised concerns about traffic, public safety and subsequently diminished property values.

But the zoning board approved the plan and ruled that the mental health center will “not negatively impact the value of neighboring property and will have a positive impact on the County’s overall tax base ...,” as stated in the resolution passed Monday.

The property currently is tax exempt since it is controlled by a religious group.

Eloy Paez and Ben Winikoff of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, co-founded Mental Health Treatment Centers of America, the company that wants to buy the King’s House property.

“First and foremost our mission is to address the mental health crisis in the nation,” Paez said in an interview after the county board meeting Monday night.

The developers declined to disclose the property sales price since the agreement with the Missionary Oblates has not yet closed.

Paez said he expects neighbors would see less traffic with the mental health center than what they experienced with the King’s House retreats.

Gonzalez told the zoning board that the King’s House has weekly retreats of groups of dozens of people staying two or three nights. In contrast, the developers said the mental health center patients would stay for an average of 40 days and a busy week would be four to five new admissions.

The developers, who run a residential mental health care center for adults in Altoona, Florida, and a mental health outpatient center for teenagers in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, gave this rundown of their plan for the King’s House site:

  • It would not be a substance abuse treatment center.

  • No patients would be from a criminal facility or program.

  • No persons with violent histories would be admitted.

  • Care would include treatment for bipolar disorder, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Patients would voluntarily check in and they could include teachers, first responders, nurses and veterans.

  • The King’s House has 62 rooms but the center would probably use 40 to 45 for patients. There would be separate wings for male and female patients.

  • It would open after it is licensed by the state and gets approval from The Joint Commission, a group that accredits health care facilities.

  • The cost for a patient has not yet been released.

  • Full- and part-time jobs could total 80 to 100.

  • A new name for the site has not been finalized but it may be White Oak Behavioral Health.

Need for mental health care

Gonzalez said he and the Missionary Oblates leaders are pleased the King’s House site would be used to provide the “very needed” mental health care.

Across the United States, just 28% of individuals’ mental health care needs are met and in Illinois, according to a report in the Belleville News-Democrat in February. In Illinois, that percentage is just 22% and in Missouri it is at 12%.

There are 156 psychiatric hospital beds between Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City and Touchette Regional Hospital in Cahokia Heights for St. Clair and Madison counties, where the combined population is more than 500,000 people.

St. Clair County is in the early discussion and planning phase of seeking state funding to add more inpatient psychiatric beds in the county, according to Dana Rosenzweig, executive director of the St. Clair County Mental Health Board.

However, Rosenzweig said this effort is unrelated to the plan proposed for the King’s House site.

The King’s House site includes more than 40 acres that Paez called a “tranquil and beautiful place” for people from the St. Louis metro area to get mental health care.

Winikoff said they will reach out to local schools, law enforcement and fire departments to spread awareness about mental health.

“Mental health is a serious issue in the United States,” he said. “We want to be a resource for the community.”

Paez said they want to provide a place where “working class” people can go as opposed to a center only rich people can afford.

“It is your neighbor, it is your teacher, your fire department, it’s your war hero,” he said.

Outlook for the King’s House ministry

Gonzalez said the last retreats at the King’s House site, which can be accessed either by North 66th Street or Judith Drive, will be in April.

Beginning in June, the retreats will be conducted at the Shrine.

The Oblates have operated the retreat center at its present location at 700 N. 66th St. since July 1951.

For more information about the retreats, call 618-397-0584.

BND reporter Lexi Cortes contributed information for this article.