A Milwaukee plan to ensure that patients in mental health crises are admitted more quickly to a psychiatric hospital is coming under fire after two people, one of whom was thought to be suicidal, waited under police guard a total of 106 hours for beds to open at the facility last month, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Local police agencies, whose officers have racked up thousands of dollars in overtime pay sitting with patients in hospital waiting rooms and squad cars, say the county and private hospitals aren’t doing enough to serve the most vulnerable mental health patients and are pushing their costs of monitoring them onto local governments.
“Officers should be on the road,” said South Milwaukee Police Chief Ann Wellens, who will address the issue at today’s meeting of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council, a coalition of the communities that make up Milwaukee County. “This ultimately ends up costing the taxpayers of my city.” The problem is one part of the larger crisis in the mental health care system, which has seen dramatic cuts in the number of inpatient beds and funding for many community-based programs that keep patients out of them. Because it had reached capacity, the county limited admissions 66 times last year, with the minimum delay lasting an average 2.6 days. In addition, it blocked all but walk-in admission 13 times last year for an average 26 hours each time. The county said it would add staff at the mental health complex and redeploy its mobile crisis teams to evaluate patients in private emergency rooms.