RUSH Day Hospital Celebrates 30 Years of Healing

Dee Dee Sanford, MBA, BSN, RN, PMH-BC; Cheryl Siegall, MS, RN, PMHCNS-BC

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, RUSH Day Hospital (RDH) is a little-known gem among the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences’ treatment programs. RDH provides intensive group therapy for higher-functioning adults with complex mental health issues. Meeting Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., RDH’s partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and group therapy programs bridge the gap between full inpatient and individual outpatient treatment.

The program has long received praise. “It's a beacon of light in a world full of darkness," a reviewer from The Joint Commission once noted. “It's the only game in town," a Chicago mental health provider has said. RDH participants tell it best, having noted that it has “changed my life,” it's “by far the best treatment I have ever received,” “the staff is the best in the city” and “this program is one of the most innovative centers for mental health in the nation.”

The story of RDH begins in the early 1990s, when Jane Ulsafer-VanLanen, MSN, the late director of RUSH’s psychiatry services, consulted with Cheryl Siegall, MS, RN, PMHCNS-BC, about starting the program. Siegall subsequently left her role as assistant unit director in adult psychiatry at 13 Kellogg, where she had been for more than 15 years, to build the RDH.

Feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension, Siegall gathered a small multidisciplinary group of like-minded, full- and part-time staff. Together they began a journey into new, unfamiliar territory.

Siegall had a vision, which she shared with her team. The program would be centered on an interpersonal group psychotherapy model. Treatment would be insight oriented. The groups would serve as a social microcosm, providing opportunities for connection, self-exploration and corrective experiences for group members. What they learned in the group settings could then be applied to their lives outside of the group. Each of the groups in the program would support this essential work.

On May 26, 1992, the program opened with five group members. They decided to call themselves “participants" rather than patients to indicate their active participation in their treatment and recovery. From the start, Siegall worked hands-on with the participants, modeling her expertise as a therapist and her passion for her work. Since early 2008, RDH has been located on the RUSH University Medical Center campus at 2150 W. Harrison Street.

In March 2020, as COVID-19 spread, RDH transitioned from an in-person program to a virtual one in a little more than a week. The staff continued to provide individual attention to each patient's needs via phone calls to manage the transition.

A full program for roughly 40 participants was maintained for 15 months until it was safe for the group to return in person. Now, the team uses a hybrid virtual and in-person model to keep everyone safe.

The RDH staff has shared many meals, personal joys and woes over the decades, celebrating and supporting one another through birthdays and life events. What keeps the staff fully engaged is a common passion for their work, a profound care for the participants, genuine and mutual respect, a willingness to push through the hard work and hard times together and making a celebration of life together. Happy anniversary, RUSH Day Hospital. We wish you many more to come!

A participant's painting of the RDH group room.
A gift to RDH on a participant’s graduation: A participant's painting of the RDH group room. The painting became a symbol for participants during the first 15 months of the pandemic, when they met virtually.