The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently reported that the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division (BHD), commonly referred to at the mental health complex, is again facing the possibility of severe money shortfall. This time the problem is that the state and the federal governments could withhold untold millions of dollars due to improper care that allowed patients to be sexually assaulted by other patients.
This is not the first time that BHD has had serious money problems. At the end of last year, it was found that the County was facing a “sudden” $3 million deficit due to the poor management skills of its director, John Chianelli:
John Chianelli, administrator of the county’s Behavioral Health Division, said he realized early this year that the state had changed the way it paid for Medicaid claims for children and patients 65 and older. At first, he thought the changes would balance out and result in no net financial cut.
But by August, he found that the state was paying far less for older patients’ stays at the Mental Health Complex than anticipated. That led to the $3.6 million deficit projected for his division.
Chianelli said he didn’t have a good handle on the deficit problem in his division until reviewing reimbursement claims from the state last month.
And even that wasn’t Chianelli’s first failure to handle the fiscal end of managing BHD. Two years ago, Chianelli oversaw BHD as it went more than $3.6 million in overtime costs, which were the result of Chianelli refusing to fill 113 fully-funded but vacant positions. Chianelli has also proposed and managed to have both the security and food services privatized. In the last two years, the privatized security has cost tax payers more than $1 million more than if it was kept in the public sector. Likewise, the food service is turning out to be costing a lot more due to the increased need for staff such as nurses and psychologists being pulled from their normal duties to make sure that the patients are receiving their proper diets, including not having bug infestations in their food.
But as bad as the fiscal mismanagement has been, that is far from the worst part of the whole story, and it is one that the paper elided past.
The most egregious part of the story is that Scott Walker and John Chianelli has a system in place that allows patients to be sexually and physically assaulted. And this is not a new story. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story three years ago showing that due to Walker continuously slashing the budget and the staffing at BHD as caused the number of assaults on both patients and staff members to escalate.
And those are only the in-house problems. We can not and must not forget how Walker was willfully neglecting the mentally ill receiving outpatient services, until the paper ran a whole series of articles highlighting the squalid, and sometimes fatal, conditions that they were forced to live in.
If anyone had to spend any time in a local medical hospital, and they were given bug infested food, or they were allowed to be physically and/or sexually assaulted by other patients, you know that the media would be all over that and there would be a public outrage until someone was held accountable for allowing this to happen.
There is no reason, not one single reason, why those who have a mental health condition and need to receive treatment at BHD should not expect the same kind of treatment and consideration that they would get at a medical hospital.
Furthermore, this has gone on for way, way too long.
Scott Walker needs to immediately remove Chianelli from his position as director. He also needs to immediately find someone that can effectively run the county’s mental health services without endangering its patients or sticking it to the tax payers.
Walker also needs to apologize to all of the citizens of Milwaukee County. He needs to apologize to the people and their families that have been harmed by his willful negligence. He further needs to apologize to the tax payers for squandering their money.
The County Board should also start looking at correcting the issue on their end to bring accountability and responsibility back to the mental health services. There are many good, caring and professional men and women that work at BHD, but they need to be allowed to do their jobs the way it is supposed to be done.
But most of all, our elected leaders need to stop allowing these vulnerable people from being further neglected and abused. They are not second class citizens.