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More Fall Out From Walker’s Failure At BHD

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on March 29, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

Earlier this month, we told you about yet another failure by Scott Walker and his director of the Behavioral Health Division in which a female patient was allowed to be repeatedly sexually assaulted by a male patient.  The lack of care for this young lady resulted in her pregnancy.  It also might cost the county a budget busting $60 million.

County officials have repeatedly expressed their confidence that Milwaukee County won’t lose that funding source, but they only give general and vague answers as to why they feel that way of what they are doing to correct this situation.

One thing that I know that they aren’t doing is addressing the main problem, which is the terribly inadequate staffing at BHD.  As with the many problems that were occurring at the House of Correction a couple of years ago, BHD is severely short-staffed.  This situation has only been made worse with Walker’s furloughs.  The staff that are there are working many overtime shifts and burning themselves out.

Adding insult to injury, Walker’s “money-saving” furloughs are anything but as they are paying more in overtime than they are saving anything.

Recently, it was reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Wisconsin State Representative Jon Richards is calling for answers from Walker:

State Rep. Jon Richards is calling on Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker to explain what steps the county has taken in response to reports of patient sexual assaults at the county’s Mental Health Complex.

Richards said in a letter to Walker Wednesday that he wants to know whether the assaults were “the result of lax and inadequate care from your administration.” Richards is chairman of the Assembly Health and Healthcare Reform Committee.

Richards also made an ominous threat about BHD:

Richards said he doesn’t want the state to have to take control of the county psychiatric hospital in order to protect patients.

“The state is not inclined to rescue yet another failed county program,” Richards wrote. In early 2009, the state took control of the county’s food, child care and health care aid programs after a class action lawsuit charged that deserving poor families had benefits unfairly delayed or denied.

My first instinct would be that Richards is merely doing some saber rattling to try to stir action from Walker and his administration.    It would be very expensive for the state to take over this program as well and the state is having their own fiscal problems.  The only way I could see them actually taking over the program is if there is something to prompt them, such as a class action lawsuit or the loss of their own funding stream, and this was found to be more costly than actually taking over.

Then again, I never thought that they state would take over the Income Maintenance Program or the child welfare system, but they did.

Another development that was reported at the end of last week was that Disability Rights Wisconsin will now get further involved and do an extensive investigation of their own:

The disability rights organization is designated under state law as its protection and advocacy agency for people with mental illness or other disabilities. In that role, the rights group has broad investigative powers, including access to institutions and records. In cases where there is strong evidence of patient abuse or neglect, the rights agency’s authority is greatest.

Beckert said the agency will issue a report in about a month detailing its findings and recommending changes.

“We are deeply concerned about the recent reports of assaults and other citations at the Milwaukee Mental Health Complex and possible systemic failures, which may include neglect of vulnerable people by staff,” Beckert said in a prepared statement. “This is intolerable.”

Her agency regularly advocates on behalf of patients at the complex, “but clearly there are additional patients whose rights are being violated and are in need of advocacy services,” said Beckert.

I have had the chance to work with DRW on a professional level and have confidence in their work and would expect their report to be rather illuminating.

While they are investigation, I hope they go a little further and explore the newly privatized food service who has also been failing to meet the special diet requirement of some of the patients.  It has also been reported that they tried to serve one patient food that was bug-infested.

On the JSOnline version of the DRW story was a rather well written comment from a person using the moniker “voidwhereprohibited”:

Kudos to Disability Rights WI for looking into this important matter. It is my sincere hope, that within DRW’s inquiry, and the County’s plan of correction, that measures are taken to address issues pertaining to patient rights and safety across the board – and that respect for humanity returns to the provision of service – from the highest levels of administration on down – from funding to building maintenance – and to educating management and staff on person centered, trauma informed, empowering, recovery focused services.

In the midst of budget concerns, it’s easy to forget that this isn’t merely a “problem to solve.” This pertains to living and breathing human beings who turn to BHD because they are hurting, and have exhausted all other means of relief. They have no other choices. If this were a clinic designed to treat cancer, and the same situation occurred, it would be a “no brainer” that something was wrong here.

The people seeking services at BHD did not sign up for mental illness – and the fact that they have a psychiatric challenge does not mean they have lost their rights to be treated with dignity & respect, in a manner that ensures their well being and safety. They don’t deserve the dismissive attitudes that have been demonstrated in the past — I call to mind the comment of a high level County spokesperson, who recently said something to the effect that “no one died, and no one was injured.” As if that minimizes the damage. I humbly speak for those who cannot — with a resounding, “i beg your pardon?”

I am hopeful now that DRW has joined this cause. The staff at BHD want to know more, do more. When administration comes on board, I believe that together, everyone can make a difference.

I agree full-heartedly with this commentary, but would change one thing.  The first thing that needs to happen is getting an administration that cares about the patients and is willing to work with everyone else on improving the situation now.  Right now, unfortunately, we have instead an administration that is apparently more interested in squelching the story as much as they can before the November elections.

And that is a failure of the current administration to not just the patients at BHD, but to us all.

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