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Milwaukee County Seeks Input on Proposed North Side Mental Health Facility

Michelle Maternowski
Michael Lappen says his goal is to continue moving the system away from institutional centers, like Milwaukee County's Mental Health Complex, and toward smaller community-based facilities.

Milwaukee’s north side needs more mental health services. So the county plans to develop a facility there and is in the process of seeking community input. On Wednesday, a public meeting was held. Both behavioral health officials and community members insist that patients will be best served near their homes and by people they can relate to.

For the past eight months, Michael Lappen has been working to transform the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division. He took over as administrator in May.

Lappen says his goal is to continue moving the system away from institutional centers and toward smaller community-based facilities.

READ: Milwaukee County Commits to Community-Based Mental Health Care

“Our idea is if we make services available to the people in their community and they feel comfortable coming there and getting the help they need, we’ll eliminate some of those crisis contacts and really establish a situation where people are seeking, choosing the help that they get and the providers that they get are really more connected to us in a positive way,” Lappen says.

And Lappen says right now, the agency wants to make more services available on Milwaukee’s north side.

“The reason we focused on the north side, was that a group of zip codes on the north side, we were able to collect data, accounted for a little more than 40 percent of our psychiatric admissions,” Lappen says.

Yet Lappen says there are not nearly enough resources available on the north side. In planning to develop them, he and his staff have held four community listening sessions to help the county decide how to move forward.

“People have said what they don’t want. People have said we don’t want this old space that’s kind of renovated, but looks like and old warehouse. We want nice, we want something nice, so that’s been a challenge with our square footage.  And as people have communicated to us the things they need, our square footage has slowly expanded,” Lappen says.

Around 20 people showed up for Wednesday’s listening session at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Milwaukee. One of them is Josephine Morris. She is medical power of attorney for her brother. Morris says he has schizophrenia and has been living in a group home.

“One thing that I am finding as my brother has been to several group homes with his problem and out to the mental health complex, it seems to be that there’s staff, unqualified staff that is dealing with people with mental illness that really hasn’t been trained,” Morris says.

Morris urged the county to put more money into hiring well-qualified staff members.

A recent audit of the Behavioral Health Division found that patients were spending too much time in restraints, and there was a need for more mental health and substance abuse services.

Administrator Michael Lappen says the audit was a snapshot in time and that the system has already fixed many of the problems.

When it comes to opening a new north side facility, Lappen says he does not have a time table or a location in mind, but hopes to have things in place by 2018.

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