Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Mental Health Center Wins Good Government Award

County partnership with area health systems on emergency mental health care gets award.

By - Nov 15th, 2022 03:23 pm
Mental Health Emergency Center. Photo taken Aug. 16, 2022 by Graham Kilmer.

Mental Health Emergency Center. Photo taken Aug. 16, 2022 by Graham Kilmer.

A partnership of Milwaukee County and area health systems is being honored by a good government organization for their work on the new Mental Health Emergency Center, 1525 N. 12th St.

The project is being recognized at the annual Salute to Local Government Awards held by the Wisconsin Policy Forum as one of the best public-private partnerships of the year.

“For more than a decade, research by the Forum and calls from providers and advocates have pointed to the need to reform the delivery of mental health crisis and emergency care in Milwaukee County,” the policy forum said. “The fruit of efforts to address this is a new Mental Health Emergency Center (MHEC), which opened its doors last month in a setting on Milwaukee’s near North Side.”

The project is a partnership between the county and four of the region’s largest health systems: Ascension WisconsinAdvocate Aurora HealthFroedtert Health and Children’s Wisconsin.

The $12 million, 12,000-square-foot facility was first announced in late 2020. As the policy forum noted, the center is a major milestone in a redesign of the county’s mental health system. The county Department of Health and Human Services has been building out a decentralized system for responding to and treating mental health crises.

Opening the MHEC allowed the county to move out of the Mental Health Complex on Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa, built in 1978, and into a decentralized network of clinics and care centers. The goal is to make it easier for people to access mental health care, and to get them in touch with services, even crisis services, earlier on. A major criticism of the county’s mental health system has been that people in crisis often don’t get the help they need until police are called to respond to an incident.

The locations of the MHEC and other clinics the county is building out or partnering with are chosen in order to put them nearer to people who need mental health care. The emergency center is surrounded by 10 zip codes where a majority of the county residents who have accessed emergency psychiatric care in recent years live. The redesign of the system allows the county to devote fewer resources to in-patient psychiatric care and more to services that can be accessed by someone while remaining a part of their community.

Kevin Kluesner, MHEC administrator, told Urban Milwaukee in September that when there isn’t a health care facility devoted to psychiatric crisis, people are often seeking treatment through the emergency department at their nearest hospital, which often doesn’t have a psychiatrist on staff. The MHEC has two psychiatrists in the facility providing 24/7 service.

Zoo Official Wins Award for Excellence

In another award by the forum, Vera Westphal, a long-time civil servant for Milwaukee County, is being honored with the Norman G. Gill Award for Individual Excellence.

Westphal has worked in county government for more than four decades, according to the policy forum, with the last 17 at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Currently she is the deputy director of the zoo and served as interim-director while the county worked to fill the position, eventually hiring Amos Morris.

“Her accomplishments include creating and leading the zoo’s Green Committee to boost its sustainability and conservation practices, helping create new revenue for the zoo through its Wild Connections program, helping to improve zoo concessions and retail operations by outsourcing them, and leading the effort to secure federal funds to keep the zoo operating during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the forum said.

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Categories: Health, MKE County, Weekly

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