By Karen Stokes
The Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Behavioral Health Services (BHS) announced the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex and Psychiatric Crisis Services (PCS), located for more than 40 years at 9455 W. Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa, will permanently close its doors September 9th.
The transition to the state-of-the-art Mental Health Emergency Center marks a new phase in the redesign of Milwaukee County’s behavioral health system which began more than a decade ago.
The redesign included the creation of the mental health board and partnerships with the Sheriff and Police Departments.
“People who are having a psychiatric crisis can receive some level of well trained de-escalation that comes in partnership with law enforcement,” said David Muhammad, Deputy Director of Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services. “In addition, the need for a Mobile Crisis Team in the community has really led us on this journey where it is more community based in multiple service areas with multiple partners throughout the community.”
Significant developments in the new behavioral health system include the newly-opened Granite Hills Hospital, an acute behavioral health care facility located at 1706 S. 68th Street in West Allis and transitioning services to community partnerships, located in neighborhoods with the greatest need.
This new model creates easier access to care, the expansion of crisis services and now the Mental Health Emergency Center, opening September 6 at 1525 N. 12th Street in Milwaukee is a historic public-private partnership between Milwaukee County and the area’s four health systems– Advocate Aurora Health, Ascension Wisconsin, Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert Health.
“I think there’s been a shift away from hospitalization for mental and behavioral services for some time,” said Muhammad. “While there is still a need for more acute cases, I think there’s a shift more toward community based support or upstream prevention and connection and referrals to therapy.”
As for the future of the complex on Watertown Plank Road, Muhammad said, “We’re in the process of selling the building and it will be demolished to make space for the expansion of the hospital systems in that area, but I will also add this, when you think about where the majority of the people who receive services at the location come from, it took three bus transfers just to make it there. For Milwaukee County it made more sense to move.
About 70% of the residents are about five minutes away from the Mental Health Emergency Center at 1525 N 12th Street.
“If you think of the cost of maintaining an older building, it would be better to invest in upstream preventive services,” Muhammad said.
The system redesign is part of a commitment to ensuring there is ‘No Wrong Door’ for Milwaukee County residents.
“’No Wrong Door’ is care coordination across all of the service areas and needs that an individual might present. That is our customer service philosophy but it’s also our internal practice of communicating across all of our service areas. So there’s an individual who comes in who is seeking support with housing but they have some needs such as substance abuse and they’re struggling with some sort of behavioral or mental health, we can make referrals to those services and we can do some of the care coordination,” Muhammad said.
Milwaukee County has provided inpatient behavioral health services for more than 100 years. The soon-to-be-closed Mental Health Complex was built in 1978 to care for individuals with mental illness who, at that time, were expected to permanently reside in this facility. Since that time, best practices in care and laws have changed.
“I think this is a major step. We’re opening another Behavioral Health Clinic on 19th and North. We are also looking for high quality staff,” said Muhammad. “If people are interested in job opportunities, this is a great place to work and we have a great deal of need particularly from Black and Hispanic communities who need people to serve them that look like them and come from the same environment.