Lawmakers consider emergency detention reforms

January 22, 2020 5:15 PM | Sally Winkelman (Administrator)

January 21, Wisconsin Health News

A new proposal would create a pilot program in western Wisconsin so law enforcement wouldn’t have to transport those in mental health crisis across the state.

The bill would require that the Department of Health Services reimburse hospitals located in Barron, Burnett, Dunn, Pierce, Polk, St. Croix and Washburn counties for housing patients for emergency detention.

Bill author Rep. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, said at an Assembly Committee on Mental Health hearing last week that those in crisis in his district are often transported to Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh.

“It’s a roughly five-hour trip, often in handcuffs, across the state while you’re in a mental health crisis,” Stafsholt said. “And the reason we do that is there’s not access to those types of facilities in northwestern Wisconsin.”

Participating providers would be able to opt into the program. DHS would cover up to 80 percent of the difference between the hospitals' average cost per bed per day and the average rate received per bed per day. Counties would have to pay the remainder.

St. Croix County Sheriff Scott Knudson said that emergency detentions can impact law enforcement staffing, calling it one of their more “draining duties." Any additional resources would help, he said.

Sarah Diedrick-Kasdorf, Wisconsin Counties Association deputy government affairs director, said the plan isn’t specific on how much of the difference DHS would cover, making it difficult for counties to budget.

She questioned how the bill would relate to federal law and county contracts for emergency detention services.

“These are all things we can sit down and talk about and come to some sort of resolution on,” she said.