As reported in The Badge Hearld
Reporter: Benny Koziol
The approval of a $76 million prison renovation and questions on current mental health services offered to Dane County inmates have driven Strategic Behavioral Health to build a new psychiatric hospital in the county.
Strategic is a Tennessee-based mental health care provider with 10 psychiatric hospitals operating in six states around the country, including one in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Like other Strategic hospitals, the facility would equally tailor programs to serve children, adolescents, adults and seniors, Strategic’s Director of Development Mike Garone said.
Ultimately, Garone said the facility would provide inpatient, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient services in behavioral health and chemical dependency.
Garone noted the hospital would also include a 24/7 crisis center to offer crisis-level care assessments free of charge.
Such a facility could be a welcome arrival in Dane County, which the government has designated as a facility-based shortage area in mental health. According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services standards, the locale currently has an inadequate level of available mental health providers and services.
The local health care field itself has taken notice of its shortcoming in mental health. Dane County Human Services conducted a study in 2016 that found roughly 84 percent of local mental health professionals believe the county needed to re-evaluate existing public mental health systems for service gaps.
Garone cited Dane County’s low number of available psychiatric hospital beds as well as the number of patients transferred out of the county for necessary care as key factors in the company’s decision to select Madison.
“We believe what we intend to offer would complement the resources that are currently available,” Garone said. “We spend time in the community talking to different stakeholders about our intentions for the project and gather their insight as to whether or not they think it would be a valuable addition to the community.”
This year, the Dane County Board has allocated $140,000 in its budget to conduct an evaluation of their current public mental health services. The study would include a determination of whether such a privately-run crisis center could indeed be beneficial for the community.
County Board Supervisor Paul Rusk, District 12, said the study will be broad in its scope, covering both the county public services offered and the efficiency of private health insurance administered within the population.
“We’re trying to figure out what the gaps are, what’s working and what isn’t working,” Rusk said.
Rusk expressed grave concerns over the current management of Dane County inmates struggling with mental health issues. He pointed out that 40 mentally-ill county inmates are left in solitary confinement each day on average.
A 2016 Pulitzer-Bogard and Mead and Hunt study of the Dane County Jail showed about 20 percent of county inmates have recorded mental health problems and about 38 percent take psychotropic medications.
Current county protocol has most of these inmates transferred for care at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute, nearly two hours north. Rusk sees the practice as inefficient and often detrimental to patients’ health.
Rusk pointed to jail diversion efforts in Green Bay, where a Strategic hospital currently operates, as the sort of success he hopes Dane County can replicate. The Green Bay Police Department has already experienced a solid decline in mental health emergency detentions since Strategic’s arrival in early 2017, according to a Wisconsin State Journal report.
“If this new hospital comes to Dane County, [we hope] that would give another alternative for people with mental illness,” Rusk said.
Rusk believes the county direly needs alternatives to the inadequate care of the jail and the faraway Winnebago state hospital.
Garone said Strategic is ready to be this alternative and collaborate with the county on its goals.
“We would look to the Dane County Sheriff’s Department to gather information about what their needs are,” Garone said. “We would want to help accomplish their goals in whatever ways we can, whether it be mental health training or assisting in their design of diversion programs.”
The county inventory of its mental health services will hopefully be finished by this upcoming summer in time for the County Board to plan its 2019 budget, Rusk said.
Both Rusk and Garone are optimistic about what the new hospital could do for mental health in the county.
“The whole idea is to get people the help they need and another place for them to go,” Rusk said. “If we had more options it would just be better for everybody.”