Recently I’ve written about areas where legislators from both parties have found common ground and come together - supporting the Veterans Outreach and Recovery Program, increasing the number of Assistant District Attorneys and cosponsoring legislation to protect students, teachers and administrators in our public schools. In our democratic system, it’s important for lawmakers to work together whenever possible to fix the issues of our day.
This is especially true when it comes to addressing mental health issues. When someone has reached a point where their physical safety or the safety of others is in question, our EMS and police officers are called upon. Unfortunately, in many cases the only option is emergency detention, which requires transporting those individuals hundreds of miles away to Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh. This is taxing on the patient, as well as his or her loved ones, and drains local resources. For many of our small town law enforcement agencies, this can mean taking an officer off of the streets for considerable amounts of time.
Our job is to figure out a way to fix this problem. A provision was included in the 2019-2021 State Budget that would have authorized $15 million in bonding for a “Northern Wisconsin Regional Crisis Center.” When I first heard about it, I was excited. But that changed when I discovered that the language was so vague as to provide absolutely no guarantee that the 22 additional hospital beds would have been available for emergency detentions, and that they all were in the Eau Claire area. It takes as long to get to Eau Claire from parts of my Senate District as it does to get to Oshkosh. Although well intentioned, the proposal was offered without any public vetting, without input from the stakeholders who are on the front lines of this crisis. Governor Evers vetoed that provision.
I know that people, especially those in the Eau Claire area, are disappointed. But we can and will do better. That’s why I’ve signed onto a bipartisan piece of legislation, authored by Senator Jerry Petrowski (R – Marathon) and Senator Patty Schachtner (D – Somerset) that would create a grant program to establish regional crisis stabilization facilities to help with pressing mental health needs. Providing these stabilization centers throughout the state will help reduce how often someone does need to be held on a Chapter 51 emergency detention.
And I am working on further legislation that will flesh out some of the details that were missing in the proposal that was included in the budget. Instead of putting 22 additional beds in Eau Claire, we can find a way to add four or five beds at four or five locations across northern and western Wisconsin. And we can find a way to make sure the beds are available when local law enforcement departments need them. I have reached out to Governor Evers and the Department of Health Services (DHS) for their input. And Attorney General Kaul will soon announce a statewide summit on the emergency detention issue, inviting local law enforcement and stakeholders including legislators, the Counties Association, the Hospital Association, and others. With their input, and yours. We can work together to move forward in the right way.