Mental health consistently brought up as necessary to address in state budget

Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 5:45 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Legislators, particularly the 16 members of the Joint Finance Committee are doing a border-to-border tour of the state to hear and see what needs to be prioritized in the state budget for 2022-2023. Mental health-related issues have come up in every community and in every listening session.

The governor’s budget has several investments in mental health-related funding including $12.3 million to establish up to two new regional crisis centers that offer holistic care to patients. That includes crisis urgent care, a crisis observation center, a crisis stabilization facility, and inpatient psychiatric beds. The intent is to improve the crisis response system, expand the availability of needed beds, and allow people to stay near their community instead of being transported long distances for emergency detention. It would also provide funding for the necessary staffing.

Democratic representatives Evan Goyke from Milwaukee and Greta Neubauer from Racine, who are JFC members, toured the new facilities and learned about the plans at North Central Health Care, to see how those investment dollars could be used and modeled after the facility. They spoke with county leadership as well as NCHC teams, and mental health advocates from the area.

“I’m a little jealous,” Rep. Goyke exclaimed during a Facebook live video they recorded at NCHC. “I’m going back to Milwaukee, I’m going to call my county board supervisor and tell them to call Marathon County board members to figure out how they figured it out here.”

They ended their tour in the new Crisis Stabilization Facility, which is awaiting to get approval soon to begin being used.

“So, we want to see what’s happening with the investments the governor’s proposed, which includes over $12 million for crisis stabilization beds,” Rep. Goyke said. “There’s a big need for these beds. Currently, too many members of communities in northern Wisconsin have to go all the way down to Oshkosh or Madison for diagnosis or treatment.”

“There’s a model here, an incredible model that we really hope to provide resources to support these kinds of models around the state,” added Rep. Neubauer.

The idea with the budget proposals is to create more crisis facilities as NCHC has built in Wausau.

“It has been made extremely clear in every community around the state that Wisconsinites want us to address mental health issues,” Rep. Neubauer noted, adding the need has only gone up due to the pandemic.

“Untreated mental illness shows up all over certain places, whether it’s the jails or in schools,” Michael Loy, NCHC’s CEO urged as the result of not funding mental health initiatives. “We need to be able to have resources for people to access treatment. So, delaying providing the continuum of care people...ultimately costs people money and the taxpayers money to address those issues when it’s untreated.”

National Alliance on Mental Illness Northwoods advocate, Sharon Kreft, said she is particularly excited about the investments in the crisis response system. She said the current method criminalizes mental health.

“Standard procedure is, deescalate the situation and I think our police officers do that pretty well, but then it usually ends up in incarceration,” she explained that puts people in a cycle that does not improve their health, behavior, or wellbeing.

The proposed budget would create a $1.25 million grant each year for municipalities and counties to create programs that bring police and behavior health professionals together and increase those behavior health professionals’ involvement in emergency response situations. It would also provide $375,000 each year for additional crisis intervention trainings for law enforcement, and provide $850,000 each year to expand Milwaukee County’s Crisis Mobile Team.

“I’m excited about the engagement from both sides of the aisle around crisis issues in our State of Wisconsin. Mental health is finally getting the attention that it needs and the resources that it needs to actually make a difference in the services and supports that we can offer our community,” Loy said. “That’s what’s really exciting about this budget.”

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