Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Committee OK’s Funding for Emergency Mental Health Center

New crisis center is an important piece of the county's broader re-shuffling of psychiatric services.

By - Mar 19th, 2021 05:04 pm
Milwaukee County Mental Health Emergency Center draft rendering. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects.

Milwaukee County Mental Health Emergency Center draft rendering. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects.

Milwaukee County is moving forward with the development of a new Mental Health Emergency Center.

In late 2020 Milwaukee County announced its Behavioral Health Division (BHD) had partnered with four major health care systems — Ascension Wisconsin, Advocate Aurora Health, Froedtert Health and Children’s Wisconsin — to develop a new facility for county residents experiencing a psychiatric emergency.

The $12 million, 12,000-square-foot facility would be built on county-owned land at the intersection of N. 12th St. and N. 12th Ln. just south of W. Fond du Lac Ave.

The new facility is intended to allow the county and BHD to better serve residents that need psychiatric crisis care. 93% of BHD patients are residents of the city of Milwaukee, and 70% come from the 10 ZIP codes adjacent to the location picked for the new emergency center, according to a BHD report. Currently patients have to go to Wauwatosa to access psychiatric crisis care.

By making this crisis care more acceptable, it will also make a number of other services more accessible. The county Department of Health and Human Services, of which BHD is a constituent division, has a policy called No Wrong Door, whereby any access point for a DHHS service — in this case psychiatric crisis care — allows an individual to be connected with the full scope of DHHS services.

DHHS Director Shakita LaGrant-McClain once explained to the question No Wrong Door tries to answer like this, “They may come for mental health needs that they may have, but how do we get them connected to transportation, or caregiver support, or housing or case management services?”

The County Board’s Finance Committee voted Thursday approving the county’s portion of the funding for the development, which is on track for rapid development. The county Behavioral Health Division, which is partnering with four major health systems in the area to develop the new facility, is planning to have the center operational by early 2022.

The funding, and bonding authority, voted on by the committee will next go to the full board for a vote.

The expedited timeline for developing the facility is critical to its success. The new facility is part of a larger re-shuffling of county psychiatric services and the new facility is a very important part.

The county is in the process of preparing to shut down the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex at 9201 W. Watertown Plank Rd., and is transferring its psychiatric inpatient services to Universal Health Services (UHS). While this is happening, UHS is building a new $33 million behavioral health hospital called Granite Hills in West Allis at 1706 S. 68th St.

BHD is currently operating a psychiatric emergency facility called Psychiatric Crisis Services (PSC) at the mental health complex which it will close once the new Mental Health Emergency Center is finished.

Granite Hills will admit its first patient this summer, commencing the shutdown of the mental health complex, which will be finished in early 2022 as the UHS facility builds to full capacity. At that point PSC will operate with limited inpatient capacity until the emergency center is operational. Once the complex is closed, Milwaukee County will be operating the PSC at a $390,000 monthly loss.

Finishing the emergency center on schedule is critical to this reshuffling for the patients and the county.

The county is splitting all costs for the new facility 50-50 with the four health systems. This also includes 50% of the annual operational deficit the facility incurs once it is open. The county’s PSC already operates annually at a deficit.

For its part, the county will issue $5.36 million in general obligation bonds, because it has a $640,000 land value credit for its buy in because the center is being built on county owned land.

Sup. Shawn Rolland successfully added an amendment to the resolution authorizing the funding for the project that would offset the spending on this project in the 2022 budget. The county has a self-imposed bonding limit, and the Mental Health Emergency Center may put the county over its limit. Rolland’s amendment reduces spending in 2022 to account for any exceedance of the bonding limit in 2021.

The amendment will have to survive a full vote by the board. It won four out of six votes in committee, with committee chair Sup. Jason Haas and Sup. Sequanna Taylor voting against. Haas explained he was concerned the amendment was handcuffing the board and the county to a financial decision far before he felt it needed to be made.

Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly referred to the leader of DHHS as Secretary. The correct title is Director. The health care company building Granite Hills is Universal Health Services not United Health Systems.

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Categories: Health, MKE County, Politics

One thought on “MKE County: Committee OK’s Funding for Emergency Mental Health Center”

  1. Douglas Johnson says:

    Great article. This is long overdue and hopefully this will be able to turnaround the mental health crisis and diminished psychiatric services that have impacted Milwaukee County for so long. The partners who came together to make this possible need to stay committed to address one of the most vulnerable populations in our community.

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