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More Details Emerge About BHD

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on August 28, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

At the beginning  of the year, an audit of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division found a myriad of problems.  Among the most serious was the fact that female patients were being sexually assaulted, and that it appeared to be not as uncommon as one would expect it to be.

This caused an avalanche of other issues to arise as the public became more aware and as more investigations happened.  Among these is that the actual physical structure of the facility was found to be in “shoddy condition.”   It was also found that John Chianelli, Director of BHD, tried to explain the sexual assaults were an acceptable “trade off,” an attitude that appeared to be prevalent in Walker’s administration.

There has also been a clamp down on information coming from County officials on all levels.  Signs, memos and emails have gone out to remind BHD employees that they are not allowed to speak to members of the press about anything.  When Supervisor Lynne De Bruin chose to bring this to the light of day and to the public’s attention, a slim majority of her colleagues censured her for having the courage to stand up for the patients.

Today, in the first of two articles, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters Meg Kissinger and Steve Schultze tell the readers a little more detail about the sexual assaults.  The things that led up to it and some of the repercussions and fall out of this finally becoming public knowledge.  Most of today’s article is a fairly accurate case study of both the perpetrator and the victim of the sexual assault, and some of the decisions that led up to this incident even being possible.  I will ask the gentle reader to peruse the article at their convenience, but add the suggestion of not doing it over a meal, as the horrors that occurred could ruin one’s appetite.

That said, there are a few things that need to be highlighted.

One of the areas is the costs related to this story alone.  First of all, there is the human costs involved.  No one can put a price on someone being sexually assaulted, or having a child placed out of their parents’ care, even when that placement is justified.  Unfortunately, in this imperfect world, there will always be cases where putting children through the trauma of being removed from their parents is the best thing that could happen to them, as opposed to being abused or neglected.

The article goes on to itemize some of the monetary costs involved with this one case:

The Journal Sentinel estimates their errors have cost federal, state and county taxpayers at least $700,000 in extra patient care costs and legal fees in the past year, a figure that may easily top $1 million.

The woman, who is not being named because she may be a victim of a sexual assault, likely would have stayed at the complex for only a few weeks until her condition could be stabilized, her guardians said. Instead, she had to be hospitalized throughout her pregnancy and for weeks beyond that at a cost of roughly $400,000.

For Atkins, who at times required greater supervision at a higher cost, the higher tally for care has been at least $300,000.

Add to that the expense of the woman’s prenatal care, the baby’s delivery, the costs of his foster care and adoption, costs to examine Atkins and other legal fees associated with his criminal cases, and the costs to correct the errors found in the federal and state inspections.

I would add to this the cost of the civil cases that will surely be coming from this mess that Walker and his staff have created.  And you know they will be coming, because all the ducks are lined up for anyone to see.

I would remind the gentle reader of the story of Dr. Tim Wiedel, who had designed and wrote up a proposal for a secure ward that could have prevented something like this from happening.  It made it to Scott Walker’s desk as part of the recommended budget that year, but Walker killed it as a “cost savings” measure.

Another article that came out in today’s paper points out the fact that other similar wards had existed, until Walker cut them out of the budget:

Care is not meant to be long term. The average length of stay in the acute unit is two weeks.

The complex had an intensive care unit for the county’s most seriously ill patients until the end of 1996, when the unit was closed to save money. A secure care unit, designed for those accused of criminal wrongdoing, closed the next year. Those patients were integrated with the rest of the population.

In other words, there were two units that could have helped prevent things like these assaults from happening, but Walker decided that his ideology was more important than the safety of these most vulnerable adults.  Then when problems began to arise, and another similar unit was proposed, Walker rejected the idea, again on the pretense of saving money.

Just like in other things we have seen this year, such as the tragedy at O’Donnell Park, this is an example of what happens due to Walker putting his political aspirations before public safety or the public good.


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