Capitol Update

by Senator Howard Marklein

November 3, 2023

Creating Mental Health Care Close to Home

Both houses of the legislature held public hearings on my legislation to create mental health care close to home on Tuesday, November 1, 2023. Senate Bill (SB) 462 and Assembly Bill (AB) 467 create the framework for the Department of Health Services (DHS) to issue certifications for new, 24/7 regional mental health facilities.  This is the important first step to adopting the Crisis Now! model for mental health care, which is built on a nationwide best practices model.
The Senate Committee on Mental Health, Substance Abuse Prevention, Children and Families and the Assembly Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse Prevention held public hearings and plan to move this bill along to the floors of both houses swiftly. This bill had bi-partisan support and my office has worked closely with DHS to collaboratively move this initiative forward. This is good policy.
The Crisis Now! Model incorporates local, regional facilities that are designed to be a “one-stop shop” for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and will accept both voluntary and involuntary individuals for short-term stays (5 days or less). Individuals can be dropped off by a friend, family member, EMS, or law enforcement. There will not be a medical clearance requirement prior to admission, which will allow law enforcement to leave the facility upon drop-off. The bill was crafted with input from stakeholders across the mental health care continuum, including DHS.
Nobody wants people in crisis to sit in a squad car for hours on the way to Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh. We do not want people in crisis to be far from home. We do not want to send local law enforcement outside of our communities for hours of overtime. Crisis Urgent Care and Observation Centers are the ideal solution to this problem. People in crisis need services and support close to home, not three hours in the back of a squad car.
The co-author of this bill, Rep. Clint Moses (R-Menomonie) said, “this is a step in the right direction to help people in a crisis. These centers will be located closer to home, especially for residents in Western Wisconsin who need support and services during a mental health crisis. Our local law enforcement support the Crisis Now model. This has been a long-time coming and much needed for our state.
Caryn Forrest, a social worker, mental health advocate and member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) joined us for the press conference to support the bill.  She shared her very personal story with us, “our family has been on a nine-year journey since my son was first diagnosed as a senior attending UW-Madison. He has been hospitalized several times every year since. We have been in countless emergency rooms across the state. We need the right service, at the right time, locally, so that we do not need to drive a long distance to get help when in crisis. We need someone to call, someone to come, and a safe place to go when in a crisis to receive expert care. I love my son with all of my heart. Know that we are only one family of thousands who are searching for the care and services our loved ones deserve.”
Finally, Grant County Sheriff Nate Dreckman, who is also the former president of the Badger State Sheriff’s Association has been working with me for years on this issue.  He said, “Representatives from the Badger State Sheriffs' and Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association have been working with other stakeholders and policymakers for many years to establish a regulatory framework for regional crisis facilities. This legislation represents many years of hard work and advancing this bill will put the state on the right path to large-scale reform to treat those individuals in crisis more quickly, closer to home and in a manner that is less dependent on law enforcement."
I will continue to work on solutions to address the unique challenges for mental health services in our communities. I sincerely appreciate all of the individuals and organizations of volunteers in our communities who have reached out with advice, ideas and support for our work on these issues. Our bi-partisan, collaborative work will make a difference.
As always, please do not hesitate to connect with me to provide input, ideas or to seek assistance.  Send an email to sen.marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov or call 608-266-0703. I want to hear from you.