Stakeholders from law enforcement agencies, county human services, county corporation counsel, mental health advocates and health systems as well as legislators and agency staff attended a Department of Justice (DOJ) summit on mental health emergency detention hosted by Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul on Oct. 31.
“By reforming our emergency detention process, we can both help Wisconsinites who experience severe mental health crises and improve public safety by reducing the amount of time that law enforcement officers need to spend outside of the communities they serve,” Kaul said. “This summit brings together law enforcement officers, medical professionals, mental health advocates, legislators, and others in order to identify solutions.”
The summit included a presentation by Derek Veitenheimer, director of the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Information and Analysis on results from a survey of law enforcement agencies regarding their perceptions of emergency detentions. “Making additional facilities available” was identified as the top response (96%) of law enforcement to improve emergency detention incidents in Wisconsin.
Improving the medical clearance process was also identified by law enforcement as a priority. That survey found that on average, the medical clearance process in the emergency department took 2.91 hours of an officer’s time responding to an emergency detention. Typically, medical clearance refers to the process of identifying and stabilizing any acute medical illnesses such that a patient may be safely managed at an inpatient psychiatric setting as determined by the admitting psychiatrist’s medical judgment.
Tamara Dodge, a senior attorney for the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, presented information on state law regarding use of private contractors by law enforcement to transport individuals under an emergency detention. Although there is a perception by law enforcement that they cannot delegate transport, she said state law does not bar law enforcement from using private contractors to transport those in emergency detention. The DOJ survey found that 79% of agencies always conduct their own transports to detention facilities and that the availability of law enforcement staff to complete a transport is a significant concern (87.9% of agencies).
Rose Kleman, Department of Health Services (DHS) Division of Care and Treatment Services administrator, presented information on several programs and initiatives that DHS is working on related to emergency detention. She said DHS is working to reduce emergency detentions by “growing the county-wide system of behavioral health services and making them available more locally.”
Paula Verrett, Iris Place program director at NAMI Fox Valley, presented perspectives on emergency detention from the patient perspective. She described her experiences with emergency detention and encouraged greater use of peer-run respite centers.
Matthew Stanford, WHA general counsel; Kyle O’Brien, WHA senior vice president, government relations; and WHA member representatives from Advocate Aurora Health, Amery Hospital & Clinic, Beloit Health System, Children’s Wisconsin, Hospital Sisters Health System, North Central Health Care, ProHealth Care and UW Health were invited to and attended the summit. Each participated in breakout discussion sessions on a range of topics impacting emergency detention process and policy.
“Emergency detention policy and process is a complex intersection of local, state, and federal government policy and funding that individually and collectively impact law enforcement, crisis services, health care providers, and patients and their families,” Stanford said. “The Summit provided an opportunity for all stakeholders to better understand that complexity and to collaboratively work to help provide the right services, at the right time, in a cost-effective way.”