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More Issues Arise At BHD

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on April 11, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

The Behavioral Health Division has already had a lion’s share of problems over the years.  These problems include such poor management that they had a $3 million shortfall at the end of last year, the new private food service not following special diets and trying to serve bug-infested food to patients, and allowing a female patient to be repeatedly sexually assaulted by another patient.

Now the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting of another problem at BHD.  Lax security that has allowed weapons, including knives and guns, to be brought into the Walk-In Clinic:

Reported security lapses at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex have prompted emergency measures and a full review of procedures, after complaints that patients at the complex’s Walk-In Clinic have showed up with weapons.

The security review was ordered Friday by Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., after a psychiatrist at the clinic said she had unsuccessfully raised concerns with administrators since mid-2009 about lax security at the county’s psychiatric hospital.

While no attacks by armed patients have been reported, the potential danger is real, according to the psychiatrist, Elaine Sorem. She’s advocating installation of a secure checkpoint at the clinic entrance or diverting Walk-In Clinic visitors to the nearby emergency room entrance, where guards use metal detector wands.

Patients at the clinic acknowledged carrying weapons at least four times since last summer, either to a therapist or to other staff, according to information provided by Sorem to County Supervisor Lynne De Bruin. In one case, the patient told a therapist that he was carrying a gun, according to De Bruin’s account. The others involved knives and a box cutter.

Not surprisingly, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker did not respond to the concerns expressed by Supervisor Lynne De Bruin in mid-February:

In an e-mail, she called on County Executive Scott Walker to “intervene immediately to provide a safe clinical experience” at the clinic. De Bruin also complained that no action had been taken on the issue since she first reported it to Walker and hospital officials in mid-February.

These are not the only incidents that have occurred at the mental health complex.  I remember an incident about two or three years ago when a visitor had brought in a gun with a bag of clothes for a patient that was staying in one of the wards at the complex.  The gun was not discovered until it was on the unit and nursing staff was checking the bag for contraband.  The visitor came in through the main doors and not through the clinic.

Immediately after that incident, the private security guards were stationed at the doorways with a metal detector wand.  They would scan everyone, visitor or employee, if they did not have the proper identification.  This security enhancement lasted only for a short time and was suddenly discontinued without further word.

I suspect it was a cost saving measure, since the private security agency is continuously running over budget as it is.

We commend Supervisor De Bruin for her follow through on this very serious issue, as well as Sheriff David Clarke for taking the matter into his own hands and calling for an investigation.

But it is severely disappointing that, once again, Scott Walker is avoiding his responsibilities and accountability to the public, the workers, and the citizens that come to the complex to get help.  When our most vulnerable citizens are asking and reaching out for help, it is unconscionable to allow them to be repeatedly exposed to potential harm for the sake of political grandstanding.  People with mental health issues are not second class citizens, and deserve to be treated better than this.


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