Mental health care advocates say it is the last thing a person in mental crisis needs at that moment, to be handcuffed, placed in the back seat of a police car and driven two and a half hours away from their family and support system.
It is, however, exactly what adult men requiring emergency detention are now facing as a result of a change in policy by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Prior to April 1, those patients could be taken to the Mendota Mental Health Institute. The Department of Health now requires those emergency detentions, if a hospital bed cannot be found locally, be taken to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh.
“It uproots them from our community, transporting them two and a half hours one way to the Winnebago facility, and to do that takes two officers to do that safely, to monitor the person safely, and that means two officers are kept out of doing other police calls for service for five hours or more,” Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said.
That two and a half hour ride while handcuffed in the back of a police car delays treatment of the patient and, according to advocates, does further harm.
“It does make it worse because then they’ve experienced more trauma and they are going to need more time and more recovery time to overcome that,” said Sue Petkovsek, president of the board of directors at NAMI Dane County.
Petkovsek said the organization had immediate concerns when officials learned Mendota Mental Health Institute would no longer be an option for adult males requiring emergency detention.
“When we heard about it, we were like, 'Oh no.' This can’t happen because people need to be in a treatment facility as soon as possible to cut down on the trauma, and now for many folks they are going to a strange place, they are in a faraway hospital that is far away from their friends and family. They don’t have the support,” Petkovsek said.
In response, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued this statement:
“Female patients -- both civil and forensic -- have been transported to Winnebago Mental Institute for years. Children and adolescent civil patients have been admitted only to WMHI and not MMHI since approximately 2009. The only change is that now male civil patients are being transported and treated at WMHI. Mendota Mental Health Institute now focuses on forensic treatment as well as geriatric treatment. Please note that there was no reduction in civil bed capacity for the state as a result of this change. In other words, the number of civil beds remains the same; it’s just that now ALL civil commitments are transported to WMHI.”
Last year Madison police transported 106 patients requiring emergency detention, with 41 being taken to MMHI and 65 being driven to WMHI. Under the new rules all 106 patients would need to be driven to Oshkosh.
“The chief of Milwaukee and I and Sheriff Mahoney, we are all of the same opinion. This issue has to be addressed sooner rather than later,” Koval said. “We feel, quite frankly, that the state has done little to nothing in addressing this issue. They have unilaterally shut down that option to us through this sort of facade of window dressing stated that there is a participatory element for feedback -- which, as I’ve surveyed Dane County chiefs, has been nonexistent. So I’d like them to reopen it. They are taking medical referrals in other domains. They should do the right thing and take these involving male commitments as well,” Koval said.