AG calls for overhauling Wisconsin’s broken mental health system

The attorney general’s proposals would need approval from the legislature
Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Winnebago County.
Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Winnebago County.(WBAY)
Published: Feb. 11, 2021 at 5:27 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - If you are going through a severe mental health episode in Wisconsin, your options right now are limited.

“Wisconsin has just one statewide facility that serves as a facility that’s available if no other psychiatric beds are available,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said.

The Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Winnebago County is a psychiatric facility that holds people in emergency detention.

Emergency detention is a statute that requires law enforcement to detain someone who will harm themselves or others and take them to a mental health facility where they spend up to 72 hours.

As past Action 2 News investigations show, Brown County law enforcement agencies, and others across the state, are taxed by monitoring these patients and driving them to Winnebago County.

According to a 2019 Wisconsin Department of Justice report, officers responding to these type of mental health crisis spend on average nine hours of their time.

“It’ll be an overtime cost to your budget or you’re stretching your resources thin,” Walworth County Sheriff Kurt Picknel said during a media conference led by the attorney general.

Several stakeholders participated in the video conference.

The attorney general seeks a series of reforms, including diverting cases away from emergency detention and instead building regional stabilization facilities.

He’s proposing expanding a pilot program that legislatures allocated money for which partners responding officers with social workers or psychiatrists.

“Hopefully having more of those options around the state will mean reduced travel time for the people who are suffering from a severe mental health crisis as well as for the law enforcement officers who are transporting them,” Kaul said.

Finding staff in behavioral mental health is also a problem as there’s a severe shortage in Wisconsin for full-time employees.

“Back in 2019, [the Department of Health Services] released a report that estimated that we had about a 117 [full-time equivalent] psychiatrists shortage in Wisconsin,” President and Chief Executive Officer of the Wisconsin Hospital Association Eric Borgerding said.

All of Thursday’s proposals require the legislature’s approval to be implemented.

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