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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Walker: Mental Health Fiasco

by capper

In what has become a recurring theme for Scott Walker, Tosa Ranger, he has been giving us less and less services for our money. He wants to continue to do the same with mental health services.

I have pointed out that Walker has mismanaged mental health services for the entire duration of his maladministration. He has been cutting out beds from the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex (MCMHC), until they are less than half of what they used to be. He has also continued to cut outpatient services for the mentally ill, on a yearly basis.

This has led to all sorts of problems. There has been a staffing crisis at MCMHC that has led to several workers and patients being hurt. The cuts in outpatient services has led the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to run a whole series of articles of how mentally ill people were living in squalor, being neglected, and sometimes even dying due to the lack of help.

This trend of not providing adequate services to the mentally ill has led to many other problems.
It has caused the municipalities to pay tons of overtime to their police officers, as they babysit people in psychiatric crises, because MCMHC has no room for them. It can cost taxpayers even more money to house them in jails and prisons, and have to give them the necessary treatment there, only to have them commit more crimes when released, due to the lack of community-based support. And these two examples don't even mention the cost to any victims that might have been affected by a person in crisis. The list can go on and on about how Walker's mean-spiritedness is costing us a lot more money than he claims to be saving.

Walker has been pushing to waste more of our tax money and cut services again. He is pushing to move MCMHC to the old St. Michael's Hospital. This is a bad idea on many levels.

One it would cost a lot more to renovate St. Mike's than to bring the present building up to code. Secondly, to make the move, it would require eliminating at least two units, meaning sixty less beds in a system that is already in crisis due to not having enough beds. (As of yesterday, they had a waiting list to just get help in the psychiatric crises unit. They were turning people away, because they weren't violent enough.)

Another problem is that St. Mike's doesn't have the physical layout that works best for mental health care. When I just got out of college, I worked at First Hospital-Milwaukee, which had been a medical hospital in a former life. Due to the lay out of the building, there was no clear line of sight down the halls. It was very dangerous to staff as that it gave a lot of hiding places for patients. It also made it very difficult to monitor patients who were a danger to themselves and others.

One of the reasons that Walker is giving for wanting the move is that the current facility is being underused. I will ignore the obvious observation that it is being underused due to his closing several units, and the Child and Adolescent Treatment Center in that last several years. I would only point out that there would be good ways to use that available space.

One would be to move the Adult Services and the Department of Aging to the empty spaces. It would allow county workers to have easier access to the mental health complex, to Children's Hospital, and to Froedtert Hospital. This means that clients receiving services from Milwaukee County could have greater access to their workers, as that they often go to these other places anyway. This would keep these clients, who are often disabled and/or elderly from having to make extra trips all over the county.

Also, consolidating all these agencies in one location would save money. Currently, the Department of Aging is located in the Reuss Federal Plaza. By moving this department, not only would it save the county money on renting the space in Reuss (which I understand to be not inexpensive), but also on the money that the county pays to provide parking for clients and workers alike. It would also save money by not having workers travelling all over the county to get from one facility to the next, allowing them to be more productive and provide better service.

But Walker probably wouldn't like that idea. It makes sense, and would actually be the responsible thing to do. Plus, it would tick off the MVPs at Froedtert, Children's Hospital and the Medical College. And I'm sure he will be looking for their help for when he does his next failed attempt to be governor.

Walker's squandering our tax money is another great reason to vote for Senator Lena Taylor on April 1st.

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