More problems have surfaced with the use of the Winnebago Mental Health Institute for Dane County residents and others suffering from acute psychotic episodes. Two Madison police officers drive two hours each way to escort a person in great stress to Oshkosh. The person likely deteriorates and the officers spend time that could be better used in policing.
Mental health advocates, family members, and criminal justice professionals have all urged a better approach to the problem of getting care for a person who could be a danger to himself or others.
A recent article suggests that the trip might be the least of the problems with the use of Winnebago. Read “Feds Sanction Winnebago Mental Health Institute” by WSJ reporter David Wahlberg to learn about a series of horrific incidents that threatened the lives of patients and put Medicare funds in jeopardy.
In December and February, federal inspectors issued 48 citations for violations of important Medicare rules including improper patient care, inadequate nursing staff, poor oversight of medical staff, and an unsafe physical environment.
Even more shocking are some of the incidents Wahlberg reports.
“After a patient fell and hit his head, it took more than 14 hours before he was sent to an emergency room, where he needed surgery for a brain bleed.”
“Before another patient was discharged, he told a nurse he would jump out of his father’s vehicle on the way home. After his father picked him up, the patient ran onto a highway. He was readmitted.” The patient had initially been admitted for a suicide attempt and had tested positive in a suicide screening the month he was released.
“At 10 a.m. Oct. 15, [a] patient was seen hitting his head on the floor. Afterward, he lay unresponsive in a day room for about 12 hours, including at least two hours after urinating on himself and not being cleaned up, before nurses returned him to his room, inspectors said. A doctor working at Winnebago temporarily assessed the patient twice that day and said there were no concerns, including no brain bleed. Nurses said they didn’t move or change him earlier because of short staffing, though a nursing supervisor told inspectors other nurses were available to help. After “neurochecks” were done on the patient at 11:10 p.m., and another doctor on call said he should go to the ER, he was taken there at 12:30 a.m. the next day.”
Poor management and callousness at Winnebago are obvious. However, the difficulties of getting help for people with severe mental illness go beyond that institution. Wahlberg also reported on violations by Strategic Behavioral Health, the company approved to open a psychiatric facility in Middleton. Click here to read his article.
The solution is both simple and complicated. We need more public money for mental health services. Rallying support for that money and figuring out how to spend it are the complicated aspects.
A first step is passage of a bill that would have provided funds for the establishment of mental health crisis centers throughout the state. The bill was supported by county governments, criminal justice organizations, and the League of Women Voters.
Click here to read a letter to the editor describing that bill and the diverse support for it. This legislative session has ended, but we have an opportunity in November to elect representatives who will support the use of public money to help those who need it most.
UPDATE: The man who fell and was left on the floor for 14 hours later died. Click here to read an article about the investigation.