Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Abele's Mental Health Safety Net Has Torn

One of the hot topic issues occurring in Milwaukee County right now has to deal with the treatment of the mentally ill.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had done a couple of series of articles on this in the last few years.  The first series looked at the squalor that the mentally ill were forced to live in.  The next series looked at the perils that the patients at the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division faced in what is supposed to be a safe place.

They have recently started another series trying to frame it as that providing inpatient services to those who need it is an infringement of the patients' rights and the court system makes it too easy to detain someone against their will (although they are looking at changing the law to make it easier to do because the current way doesn't allow enough time.)

Milwaukee County Executive Emperor Chris Abele is currently in the process of closing down the mental health complex, moving people out regardless of whether there is sufficient resources to keep them and the community safe; regardless of the guardians' wishes, and; regardless of the clinicians' recommendations.  He is in such a mad rush to do so that staff are now looking for placements outside of Milwaukee County because there are not enough resources in the county.

Abele has made it seem that he has safety nets in place to keep the mentally ill and the community safe.  This is a laughable claim.

One of the safety nets, which has been in place for years is the ACCESS Clinic, or the walk in clinic at the mental health complex.  People could walk in as they would a medical walk in clinic, get diagnosed and referred to a professional vendor who would start working with the patient.  This is known as the Mental Health Outreach Program.

Another such program was the WIser Choice program, which assisted people with alcohol and/or drug abuse problems.

These programs were doing fairly well in their objectives and were serving a lot of people.  But it appears that Abele and his bean counters were counting on pixie dust as well as their beans in figuring out how much these programs needs.

Even though they had just reported to the "micromanaging" County Board's Health and Human Needs Committee that things were going swimmingly, that apparently was not the case.

On Monday, June 10, a memo was released notifying providers and ACCESS Clinic staff that the WIser Choice program was about to way overspend their $440,000 budget and that - effectively immediately - they were drastically cutting back services.  Yup, without any warning to the providers or the patients, they were pulling way back on services:

  • The service cuts include going from 60 hours of services in the first 60 days down to 8 hours of services in the same amount of time.  
  • Then if further services are requested and approved, it will be for only 12 hours in the next 90 days.  
  • Furthermore, people with substance abuse problems will be limited from the use of the ACCESS Clinic unless they are in need of medication.
If Abele cannot even handle this one part of the safety net for the county's mentally ill population, what's going to happen when the more severely ill are put out in the community?  

One also has to wonder if this would have happened if the County Board was truly "micromanaging" the county, as Abele and his supporters have charged. 

What is does show is that the state legislature and Scott Walker made a dreadful mistake when they, for all practical purposes,  made Abele emperor of the county. That's one mistake we all will be paying for for a long, long time.


  1. Great article and such an extremely important topic. I graduated from college in 1972 and began working as a social worker - mostly as a psychiatric social worker and in KY at that time. I cannot express how much the world has changed - for the worse - in terms of decreases in services to a population that requires services. Services for the mentally ill are not a luxury. They are a necessity. I am very lucky to be long retired.

  2. Costs go up when private facilities have to absorb these patients. Deaths and injuries will go up too. State beds are closing and that is bad enough. I need out of mental health the stress is already too much.