Long Trip to Oshkosh Harms Those with Mental Illness and Costs the Taxpayers

An article in Cap Times by Abigail Becker describes the interaction between Madison’s police department and people with mental illness.  Click here to read “Crisis Cops.”

Becker describes the emotional and financial costs of the requirement that police take people in need of inpatient care to the Winnebago Mental Institute near Oshkosh.   People in severe mental crisis endure a 2-hour ride in a police car and police are unavailable for other duties.

Moses, an interfaith advocacy organization, has argued for the development of a local restoration center in which people in crisis could receive immediate help.   The idea has been effective in other communities.   Click here to read a case study of its implementation in Bexar County, Texas.

The League of Women Voters of Dane County will host a forum on April 5 from 7:00 to 8:30 at Capitol Lakes, 333 West Main Street on “Jailing the Mentally Ill:  Better Options.”   Click here for more information.

After the March: Act Locally

Madison had the second highest per capita number of marchers in the country.  We might  have been first if so many of us had not marched in Washington, D.C.

How can we harness all that energy and maintain it over four long years?  I made a list to remind myself of all the opportunities close at hand.  They suit my priorities and mostly fit in my “keep at it” category.  But, still, they might offer some new ideas to someone else.

Learn about local government. The League of Women Voters Dane County encouraged its members to attend committee meetings of the city and county governments in the next months.  I’m going to a meeting of the county’s Health and Human Needs Committee on January 25.  We will discuss what we learned at unit meetings in February.

Follow the Money.  A coalition of 18 organizations released an alternative budget showing that nearly $900 million would be available to improve the lives of middle- and low-income people in Wisconsin by closing two tax programs that benefit millionaires and other wealthy people.  The Wisconsin Budget Project posted the budget on its website, along with other reports that help explain how fiscal policies affect our lives.  I learned only a few days ago that Wisconsin’s minimum wage is one of the lowest in the country.

Try to Understand and Explain Medicaid.  Medicaid is the largest source of funds for mental health services.  It is particularly important to poor people and people with serious mental illness.  But, it is a very complicated program that varies from state to state.  Wisconsin’s situation is especially complicated because Governor Walker refused federal funds to expand services, but used state tax dollars to add some people to the rolls.  The various proposals for change likely will end up decreasing services and reducing the number of people who are eligible.  Understanding and explaining how that will happen is hard.

Stay Informed about Efforts to Get People with Mental Illness into Treatment instead of Jail.  Dane County has had lots of activity on the goal of reforming the criminal justice system during the last couple of years.  The County Board produced a report with 30 recommendations.  MOSES continues to meet and offer good ideas.  Dane County sent a team to a Stepping Up Summit to learn from experts and other communities.  But, the necessary expansion of mental health services has not occurred.  We need an economic argument, showing that tax dollars would be saved by treating people before they are sentenced.  The Stepping Up Initiative website offers accounts from communities that have been more successful than we have.  I’ll try to learn from them.

Remember that Money Helps.  When I’m feeling too old, tired, or discouraged to do something about an issue, I’ll try to remind myself that some organization doubtless is working on it and its employees need paychecks.