An Assembly task force charged with tackling mental health issues in Wisconsin released its recommendations on Wednesday. Speaker Robin Vos formed the task force in February. He said at the time that “the current system for treating those with mental illness is simply not getting the job done.”
Representative Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood), a legislator who is also a metal health nurse, served as vice-chair of the panel, which held five public hearings and heard from 70 experts in the field. “There’s no single county that is doing everything right and no single county that is doing everything wrong,” she said. “In fact there are 72 different ways that mental health is delivered in our state.”
“There’s different sets of priorities in each place,” said Representative Erik Severson (R-Osceola), a physician and the task force chair. “To say ‘well this is the priority that I see,’ I’ve come to see that there’s just different problems everywhere that we need to deal with.” Severson said the issues that are most pressing in rural areas of the state might not be as a high a priority in the city of Milwaukee.
The task force has put forth nearly two dozen recommendations, and four bills have already been introduced. “I think that we’ve had a real good vetting process,” said Voss. “My hope is to have them on the floor in November.”
Highlights from the task force’s work released by Vos’ office include:
- Establishing a child psychiatry access line for primary care physicians to easily speak to a mental health professional who can help recommend treatment as well as facilitate referrals to community resources.
- Creating a Primary Care and Psychiatry Shortage Grant program to encourage primary care physicians and psychiatrists to locate in underserved areas of the state.
- Expanding the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) program to allow counties to create TAD programs specifically tailored to people with a mental health diagnosis in order to provide treatment. This program has a proven record of reducing recidivism and incarcerations.
- Increasing mental health care coordination between primary care physicians and mental health professionals.
- Allowing interested persons to request emergency detentions.
“These proposals will cost money,” Vos noted. “Some of them require an investment up front . . . but spending resources on some of these programs is probably a wise investment for our state to save money in the long run.”