October 16, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: Improving Our Mental Health System

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

In early 2013, a legislative task force on mental health was summoned to address pressing issues in the government’s mental health and correction institutions. The task force was sent to eliminate barriers to treatment, improve coordination of care, increase awareness and reduce negative stigmas, expand successful treatment methods, and address mental illness further in the prison population. There is a wide consensus that current system for treating those with mental illness is simply not getting the job done.  Undoubtedly, the costs and consequences of mental illness expand beyond the individuals who need treatment; mental health issues affect everyone.

In order to address the grievances of and barriers to Wisconsin’s mental health institutions, the task force is introducing legislation to the Senate Health and Human Services committee this month. Importantly, the legislation outlines pilot programs where eligible offenders in county correctional facilities can obtain certain benefits to help reduce recidivism after release and expands juvenile accessibility to mental health institutions. Additional legislation would modify emergency detention laws, expanding the 24-hour period of detention determination if patients have unstable physical injuries and diversify the membership of community boards that delegate local mental health services.

Additionally, among the recommendations of the task force are programs that will encourage primary care physicians and psychiatrists to locate in underserved areas of the state, programs that will specifically tailor to people with a mental health diagnosis in order to provide treatment, and programs that will increase coordination between primary health care physicians and mental health professionals.

Members of the task force identified Milwaukee as a high priority area. Thousands of people filter through Milwaukee’s mental health care systems unsuccessfully every year; it is estimated that one of every three people treated at Milwaukee County’s psychiatric emergency room returns within 90 days. Emergency rooms in Milwaukee are not acting progressively. However, through health care reform there is light at the end of the tunnel; Milwaukee’s health care system can and will move forward.

 The task force’s reforms hope to attack the failures of each institution on all fronts. These bills are anticipated to reach the floor in November. Undoubtedly, it is essential that the state uses its resources in the best ways possible to ensure the comfort and health of its citizens and community. Investing in the community, when done properly, is a wise investment. I look forward to seeing how some of these bills can improve the quality of life in the state of Wisconsin, and particularly in my district.

The health and safety of my constituents is as always my primary concern. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.

As always, I am here to serve.