PEOPLE-Local 645

  • Quality of Life Alliance

Mental Health Complex To Get Help Soon…Maybe

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on December 10, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that there may be some much needed changes in the near future for the much beleaguered and belabored mental health complex.

After Scott Walker formally abdicates his position of county executive (in contrast to the last eight years when he only informally abdicated this position), Chairman Lee Holloway will assume the position temporarily.  The article indicates that Holloway has plans to restore some of the quality that has been lacking for the past several years:

The county has been under a “hard freeze” on hiring since 2008, though that was implemented by executive order of Walker, who leaves office in a few weeks and will be sworn in as governor Jan. 3.

County Board Chairman Lee Holloway becomes county executive temporarily when Walker quits, which is expected to happen before the end of the month.

Holloway could rescind the hiring freeze once he occupies the executive’s suite in the courthouse, freeing up the mental health hirings. He also plans to advance a comprehensive plan for reforming mental health services that will include additional hiring, said Harold Mester, the County Board spokesman.

“He intends to carry out the spirit of what was included in the 2011 budget” on mental health hiring, Mester said. The budget listed 47 new positions for the county’s Behavioral Health Division, including the 21 nursing jobs.

Holloway also wants to consider additional hiring for the division to rein in overtime costs, Mester said. Overtime for mental health employees is on a pace to reach $4.3 million for 2010, beating last year’s total. The bulge in overtime costs has been blamed on an increase in very difficult patients requiring more intensive care and extra work for maintenance staff ordered by state inspectors.

The main gist of the article though is that the filling of these positions might prove to be very difficult, if not impossible.  The problem arises from the illegal budget that the Board and Walker finalized last month.  In order to be balanced, the budget requires considerable concessions from the unions, concessions that have not even been formally proposed yet, much less agreed upon.

County officials, including auditor Jerome Heer and Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, are concerned that without these concessions, it would be hard to find the money to pay for the new hires.

However, the article also alludes to the way that some, if not all of these positions could be filled.  The cite the ever-increasing amount of overtime being paid out due to these staff shortages and the excessive amount of furlough days being forced upon the workers.

In 2010, the overtime at the mental health complex is projected to be $4.3 million.  The County could use at least some of this money to hire more staff.  With the hiring, it could cut down on overtime costs, as well as FMLA costs.  FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) has been accelerating due to workers being injured or just plain burned out, stemming from the high levels of overtime they’ve been putting in.

Not coincidentally, the higher use of FMLA also equates to higher overtime, as that the already depleted work force has to cover those out on leave.

Another reason the new hires are needed was shown this last year with the numerous incidents of sexual assaults at the complex, inmates leaving the complex only to assault neighboring residents and the slue of lawsuits stemming from these and other similar incidents.

Perhaps Supervisor Dimitrijevic and Mr. Heer are asking the wrong question.  Instead of asking if the county can afford hiring the extra staff for the complex, they should be asking can the county afford not to hire them.


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