State law is riddled with provisions that apply only to Milwaukee County, and one of them just helped to cement plans for a new psychiatric emergency department on the north end of Downtown.
In Milwaukee County, and only here, police officers who detain someone believed to be a threat to themselves or others under state “emergency detention” law must get a doctor’s endorsement within 24 hours, otherwise the person is free to go. (In other counties, police can hospitalize someone for up to 72 hours.) According to Michael Lappen, head of the county Behavioral Health Division, this effectively mandates an ER where police can get a doctor’s so-called Treatment Director’s Supplement, or TDS.
Currently, that place is the county Mental Health Complex’s aging Psychiatric Crisis Service facility, which the county plans to close over the next year as it transitions to a more community-based model of mental health care. The inpatient facility replacing the complex, run by Universal Health Services, won’t have an emergency department at UHS’ request.
Because of the need for a TDS, local health care providers had a choice to make. Either they join forces with the county to fund a new psychiatric facility where police could take patients, or invest millions, individually, in upgrades and staffing, says Lappen.
In the end, the county and four networks – Aurora, Froedtert, Ascension and Children’s Wisconsin – brokered a deal to build and run the new, standalone $12 million psychiatric ER. Without such a facility, police would take detainees to the nearest hospital. “Anyone who walks through the door, you’re responsible for,” Lappen says.