Bill would allow for new mental health facilities in Wisconsin

By: - November 2, 2023 11:39 am

Sen. Howard Marklein speaks about a bill that would allow for the creation of new regional mental health facilities. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

Additional crisis urgent care and observation centers could soon be created in Wisconsin to help address a lack of treatment options for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

A bill co-authored by Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Clint Moses (R-Menomonie) would authorize the state Department of Health Services to create a framework for issuing certifications for new, 24/7 regional mental health facilities. 

Marklein said it’s not uncommon for people in southwest Wisconsin who are going through a mental health crisis to have police called and then to be transported across the state to Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh. 

“It’s a terrible process on so many different fronts,” Marklein said during a Wednesday press conference held ahead of a Senate public hearing on the bill. “Number one, it’s bad for the person in crisis. That’s not the best way to treat somebody who’s got a mental health crisis — put them back of a squad car for a three-and-a-half hour trip. Secondly, the demands on our law enforcement is significant. It takes one or two staff, basically a shift, to transport that person to the hospital and deal with all of the challenges.” 

Marklein said the bill — SB 462 — was drafted in consultation with DHS and other mental health stakeholders and has bipartisan support.

DHS Secretary-designee Kirsten Johnson called the bill a “significant and meaningful step in creating needed infrastructure.”

“Far too many people who are in crisis are brought to an emergency room with a long wait time and transferred to a mental health facility while in law enforcement custody, which can exacerbate a crisis,” Johnson said in a statement. “The mental health facilities are often far from their home and loved ones,” 

Marklein said the new centers will act as a “one-stop shop” for people in severe mental health crises. He said they will take people voluntarily and involuntarily for short-term stays of less than five days and that they would be required to be located at least 100 miles from Winnebago as they are meant to bring care closer to other parts of the state, especially rural areas.

Marklein also noted that the centers will be closer and medical clearance won’t be required, which would be helpful for law enforcement. 

“They will not have to hang around for a long period of time after they grab somebody,” Marklein said.

Moses explained that, under Wisconsin Chapter 51, law enforcement are required to be present with individuals through from the hospital emergency room to Winnebago. He said he’s heard of some law enforcement personnel who spend 12 to 14 hours dealing with someone in crisis due to the trip time to Winnebago and having to stay at the facility. 

The new centers would be supported by $10 million that was included in the biennial budget passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Tony Evers for the purpose. According to DHS, it’s estimated that the money could fund up to two additional facilities.


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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner. She’s previously written for the Minnesota Reformer and Washingtonian Magazine. A Tennessee-native, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University in June 2022.