Public Policy Forum Blog

A new strategic direction for mental health care in Milwaukee County

A recent series of articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on safety issues at Milwaukee County's Mental Health Complex is the latest to raise questions about the level and quality of mental health care in our community. Unfortunately, while these exposes have ranked high in shock value, they have yet to produce the comprehensive redesign of the public and private mental health systems that many feel is needed.

A report released today may provide the impetus for such change. The report - authored by Massachusetts-based Human Services Research Institute - culminates a two-year project initiated by the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership (a collaboration headed by the five major health systems in Milwaukee County), the Medical Society of Milwaukee County, and the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division. The project’s objective was to bring in national expertise to examine gaps in the existing adult mental health care delivery system and devise ways to transform that system into one that more closely mirrors national best practices. The Public Policy Forum has served as local facilitator for the project.

Readers of the report should be forewarned - in many respects, this is a technical document that contains dozens of pages of data findings and analysis and lots of references to mental health policies and practices that may not be familiar to the average citizen.

But that also may be its strength. Indeed, by suggesting a new strategic direction based on data and facts, it is hoped that this report can de-politicize and de-sensationalize a set of complex issues and challenges that must be confronted for the sake of the overall health of our community and the fiscal health of Milwaukee County government.

Some of the report's recommendations may be controversial, and some may require new fiscal resources (though the report emphasizes re-directing existing dollars, as opposed to finding new ones). Implementing those recommendations will not be easy, and will require teamwork and cooperation from several levels of government, law enforcement, consumers, advocates, community-based organizations, and private sector payers and providers. Yet, the diversity of the stakeholders group that has brought the project this far certainly provides hope.

The media release accompanying the report - which provides additional details about the project's history and the stakeholders that have guided it - can be accessed here. The executive summary and full report can be accessed here and here.

Rob Henken