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Lots Of Pageantry, Little Personal Repsonibility, No Problem Solving

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on August 28, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been doing a most excellent job in covering the myriad of issues that continue to occur at the mental health complex.  Many kudos and our heartfelt gratitude  go out to Meg Kissinger and Steve Schultze for their reporting on most of the issues going on and exposing the lack of protection Scott Walker has provided for our most vulnerable citizens.

During the week, it was found that Walker and his administration, just as in the O’Donnell Park tragedy, has been uncooperative with investigators and auditors and have repeatedly failed to provide requested documents in a timely fashion:

Newspaper reports of the federal investigation prompted two separate reviews, one by the county’s own audit office and one by Disability Rights Wisconsin, a patient advocacy group. On Tuesday, officials working on both reviews said they have had problems getting documents from Behavioral Health Division officials.

County Auditor Jerome Heer said county lawyers, on behalf of the division, challenged Heer’s authority to review patient records, something that had not happened during previous audits.

“It did cause us some initial concern,” Heer said. “It was obviously something we had to deal with. It was just some additional work we needed to do to get the access.”

Investigators from Disability Rights Wisconsin, the agency designated by the state as patient ombudsman, are also reviewing the records and said they had been frustrated with the failure by the division to provide the records they had requested.

Disability Rights has authority under state law to investigate reports of patient abuse, including the right to review normally confidential patient care records. Federal law otherwise imposes strict limitations on disclosure of patient records unless a particular patient authorizes the release.

Barbara Beckert, director of the agency’s Milwaukee office, said the requested records were key to her agency’s investigation. Though she had previously said the group’s final report would likely be released in September, she said Tuesday that was now in doubt because of stalling by the county.

“It has caused a delay in terms of our report,” she said.

It was also found that the Sheriff’s office, who was doing an audit of the security of the building, also had problems getting requested information.

Despite these obstacles, the Sheriff’s Office was able to complete their investigation and found that security at the complex was terribly lax and would be liable to allow tragedies to arise.  Most of the concerns can be traced to the facts that Walker has allowed maintenance and repairs to fall so far behind, as well as his insistence of privatizing the security guards.

Walker has since claimed that he had already implemented many of the recommendations, including having security guards at the doors.  However, when I went there twice last week, I found that there rarely guards at the doors.  And when there were guards, they were hardly being attentive since they were talking on the phone or flirting with some of the housekeeping staff.

Since these stories have come out, Walker has taken action, of a sorts.

First, he demoted John Chianelli, Administrator of BHD to become the Deputy Administrator at Disability Services.  Not fired or suspended, but merely transferred. This move reeks of Walker’s patented showmanship instead of having any real substance.

Disability Services and BHD often service the same clients, the former in the community, the latter as inpatients.  With this demotion, Walker is basically saying that he felt Chianelli unable to protect these vulnerable citizens in the controlled setting of the hospital, but fully able to protect them in the uncontrolled setting of being in the community.  That makes no sense, and is indicative that Walker is simply using Chianelli as a scapegoat.

The scapegoating continued today when they suspended Dr. Karl Strelnick without pay, with a plan to file charges with the Personnel Review Board to have him fired.  The pretense is because two of the patients found to be in “immediate jeopardy” were under his care. That sounds justified in itself.

The problem lies in the fact that it has been reported to me that when they escorted Dr. Strelnick from the complex, the media apparently had been tipped off  and were there to witness the event.  That gives it the flavor of being more of one of Walker’s publicity stunts instead of an actual move to fix any problems.

There are four things that have been conspicuous by their absence during these events.

The first is Scott Walker himself.  As with almost every time of crisis, including the floods last month, when the going gets tough, Walker gets going on the campaign trail.

The second thing missing is Walker taking ownership of the consequences of his own policies.  After years of deferred maintenance, he does not accept that the facility is in “shoddy condition.”  Despite claims of saving money, he has not admitted that he failed in that aspect due to the budget busting amounts of overtime, legal costs, private lawyer fees of $400 per hour and now a $50,000 public relations person.   This does not include all of the  possible lawsuits

If Walker hadn’t put his political aspirations ahead of the public good, he would have had more than enough money to pay for sufficient staffing that these horrible incidents never happen, as well as keeping the building up to code.

The third thing that has been missing is an apology from Walker.  He needs to first and foremost apologize to the patients of BHD, who he has willfully failed to protect.  Then he owes an apology to the community as a whole for unnecessarily putting public safety at risk.  Finally, he owes the tax payers an apology for squandering their tax dollars instead of putting them to the use in providing services and safety for these vulnerable citizens.

Finally, the last thing missing, and the most important, is a sign that he truly wants to fix the problems at BHD.  So far, Walker has only used his grandstanding to give us the appearance of doing something to fix the problems.  However, just changing the names and faces of the players will do nothing to address the issues at the facility unless he actually moves away from his own failed policies and mismanagement.

Until that time, Walker is only showing us that he hopes to bamboozle us until he can get out.  He is also showing that he either does not have the answers or he just doesn’t care.


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