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Shortage Of Beds For Mental Health Patients Puts Stress On Rural Wisconsin Counties

State Ranks 37th Per Capita In Number Of Psychiatric Beds


A shortage of psychiatric hospital beds in Wisconsin is driving up costs for county human services departments.

When police respond to a mental health emergency, it’s up to county human services departments to place patients with medical assistance providers at psychiatric hospitals. But in parts of the state like northwestern Wisconsin, there are limited inpatient psychiatric hospital beds. Eau Claire County Human Services Director Tom Wirth said if local beds are full, they have to send patients nearly 200 miles away.

“We end up having to transport individuals to Winnebago Mental Health Institute,” Wirth said. “That facility is not a medical assistance reimbursable facility and so therefore it ends up being at the cost of the county.”

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Wirth said that last year the tab came to $264,000. The national Treatment Advocacy Center ranks Wisconsin 37th in terms of psychiatric beds per capita.