Earlier today, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi officially signed the 20-22 budget, which he has titled “Meeting the Challenge.”
The 754 point nine million dollar plan looks to address the impacts of COVID-19, as well as investing in mental health, combating climate change, public safety, and more.
One major factor of the budget is ten million dollars in spending to help build a new Crisis Triage Center.
The center, which is still in its early stages of development, is designed to help keep those with mental illnesses out of the criminal justice system and help to link them directly with services to help them overcome barriers. Anna Moffit is Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Dane County.
“…it will be a location that someone could go for observation, there would be mental health assessments, there would be physical health assessments, and it would be a welcoming place. There would be access to peer services, there would be a walk in, typically there would be a walk in side, but then there would also be a place where first responders and law enforcement could do drop offs,” Moffit said.
The Triage Center will work in tandem with programs like the Behavioral Health Resource Center, which launched last year to help those in mental health care connect with resources and to help those seeking treatment for substance abuse.
It would also work with another new addition to the budget, a new mobile mental health program by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office. Parisi explains.
“What we’re piloting in this budget is an innovative program that we learned about from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, they just started doing this. It’s a program in which we are providing tablets, like iPad like tablets, to every sheriffs deputy who’s out on patrol. And on the other end of those tablets are mental health crisis workers who are on call and available, ” Parisi said.
Parisi says that these mental health professionals will be people in the community, not from a call center on the other side of the country, and will help those in rural areas receive the help they need instead of being incarcerated.
The Crisis Triage Center would work similar to an emergency room for mental health, with a few key differences.
There will be more privacy, and a calmer atmosphere to help people find the help they need. Moffit says that there are similarities, but it is not a perfect analogy.
“So it is kind of like the E.R., but it’s different than the E.R. because when you go into the emergency room it’s a very chaotic place. There’s people that are having physical health crisis, right? There’s not a lot of privacy, it’s not welcoming, it’s overwhelming, and so really the triage center will not be like the E.R., it should be a much more welcoming place. Like I said there would be peer support, there would be medical support for low-level physical health needs, and then also that observations and crisis stabilization,” Moffit said.
The Crisis Triage Center would work with individuals regardless of their insurance status. Which is important as the need for the center is high.
Sean Kirkby is a reporter for Wisconsin Health News, and has covered mental health services in Wisconsin. He says that while Wisconsin has always needed more mental health services, COVID has only created more need.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve seen increased stress, we’ve seen isolation, and all those can make mental health issues a little bit more difficult to handle. For instance another thing that we’ve seen related to mental health is an increase in the number of opioid overdoses and other sorts of issues related to that. So we’re seeing an increase in demand and we’re also seeing an increase in the amount of attention paid to providing funding and supporting these services,” Kirkby said.
Also in the budget is funding to continue the Hotels to Housing program, which will help those experiencing homelessness find shelter in hotels around the city.
The program began at the beginning of the pandemic, and the budget allows those staying in the hotels to find permanent housing, and has already been used to find permanent housing for over 90 people. Parisi explains,
“…and so then we help people find housing, but then we also provide case management to help people succeed in their housing. And also there are resources they can go to to pay rent forward for individuals, so that they can get their foot on the ground, so that landlords have the security of knowing that the rent will be paid, just to give people a better chance,” Parisi said.
Parisi says he hopes to continue the program until at least June 20-22.
Photo courtesy Eyes for Ebony / UNSPLASH