Graham Kilmer

County Opening New Mental Health Clinic

Clinic will move services from Wauwatosa to Milwaukee central city.

By - Jul 26th, 2022 08:06 pm
1919 W. North Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

1919 W. North Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee County is opening a new clinic at 1919 W. North Ave., the Milwaukee County Mental Health Clinic.

Mike Lappen, administrator of the county’s Behavioral Health Division (BHD), told Urban Milwaukee the new clinic is part of the county’s ongoing transition out of centralized facilities at the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa.

The county has long had a small clinic that provided outpatient mental health services for children and families that BHD called the Wellness Clinic. This clinic provided mental health services that helped bridge the divide between the care they needed and the care that was available. 

The clinic was developed to serve several hundred children in the Wraparound Program, which caters to children with serious behavioral and mental health needs. “The idea behind it was that it’s so challenging for families to access a prescriber, for instance, a child psychiatrist, a specialized prescriber…They were at risk for out-of-home placements and we wanted to make sure that we had an immediate resource for them,” Lappen said.

When the county made the decision to close the Behavioral Health Services Hospital, officials began looking for a way to preserve this service. Lappen said they began looking at where many of their patients live and where there were the fewest providers and the “53205 ZIP code came up as the least resourced and also the ZIP code where many of the folks historically through our hospital emergency service and our outpatient services actually live.”

Opening the mental health clinic there follows the same logic that led to the Mental Health Emergency Center being developed near the intersection of N. 12th St. and W. Fond du Lac Ave. – also in the 53205 ZIP code.

Lappen said the North Avenue clinic should be open by late September. It will share a building with the Shafi Medical Center and a Hayat Pharmacy.

The new clinic on North Avenue will have more psychiatric staff and prescribers than the old clinic in Wauwatosa. It will be part of BHD’s wider community clinic network taking shape. The psychologist, Dr. Kenneth Cole, Director of Outpatient Treatment for the division’s partnerships with four community health centers, will also be leading the new clinic.

BHD has teams that work out of four community health centers, like 16th Street Community Health Center, to build relationships in the communities the division is trying to better serve by going where people already have a “trusted relationship” with a healthcare provider.

Lappen said the new clinic, along with the health center teams, are part of an effort to put mental health care further “upstream.” This term has become widely used by county officials since County Executive David Crowley took office and made it a priority in his strategic plan for achieving racial equity. The idea is that services and programs should be designed to prevent negative outcomes in health and welfare before they occur.

“Unfortunately, a fair criticism of the system is that it often relies on a crisis to trigger a response,” Lappen said.

Lappen said the division is trying to encourage people to access mental health services, even crisis services, at the first sign of trouble – whether it’s something as small as a noticeable change in behavior to more serious stuff, like vague suicidal comments. “We would love to send our children’s mobile team out and work with the family,” he said.

“What has happened historically is only after the police get called, because of the serious outcome or the serious event, do kids get the help they need,” he said.

The new clinic on North Avenue won’t be a walk-in clinic per se, but it won’t turn anyone away at the door, Lappen said. It will be part of a larger county network and philosophy, called ‘No Wrong Door’, that allows patients to walk in anywhere in the system and be connected with the services they need.

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Categories: Health, MKE County, Weekly

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