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New Milwaukee County facility to provide emergency mental health care

County to collaborate with Milwaukee-area health care providers on center's services

A new mental health emergency center recently finished in downtown Milwaukee
A new mental health emergency center is seen on April 1, 2022, recently finished in downtown Milwaukee, Wis. It’s set to start providing services to people in Milwaukee County in September as part of a collaboration between the county and area health care providers. Christine Hatfield/WPR

A new mental health emergency facility is set to provide crisis care to people in Milwaukee County when it opens later this year.

Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin visited Milwaukee on Friday to tour the recently-constructed center at 1525 N. 12th St. She said the new building is “so needed” as a national mental health crisis continues.

“We’re whole human beings,” Baldwin said. “We have bodies, we have minds, we have to think about health care really in a comprehensive, holistic way.”

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The facility will offer 24-hour emergency care to children and adults with mental health disorders. Baldwin helped to secure more than $2.5 million in funding for the building as part of federal appropriations legislation, according to a news release.

Milwaukee County already provides emergency mental health care at a center in Wauwatosa in the suburbs, but according to the county, more than 90 percent of the patients that center gets come from the city. That’s part of why the new center will replace the current one in Wauwatosa.

County residents face a host of mental health disorders, and Baldwin said the COVID-19 pandemic likely had a significant impact on mental health and substance use disorders.

“The record number of deaths by suicide, deaths by overdoses, really underscores how dire the situation has become because of pandemic-related influences,” Baldwin said.

The center is one of multiple recent county initiatives to address the mental health of residents. Last month, a county task force approved plans spearheaded by Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley to spend close to $7 million in federal stimulus funding on a variety of behavioral health and public safety initiatives.

Kevin Kluesner is the site administrator for the new center. He said the building was tailor-made to serve the area’s needs.

“Really, it’s to help get people when they’re in crisis, help get them to the next stage of care that they need, so stabilize them, and then we’re really kind of an integration point into the other services in the community,” Kluesner said. “Whether it’s the person at registration, the housekeeper, the psychiatrist, everybody is trained on de-escalation and how to best care for these patients.”

The center is a joint venture between Milwaukee County and area health systems Children’s Wisconsin, Froedtert Health, Advocate Aurora Health and Ascension Wisconsin.

“I’ve never seen a collaboration quite like this, where you had four large health systems come together with Milwaukee County, with support from the state of Wisconsin and now through Sen. Baldwin, the federal government, to try to address this critical need in our community,” Kluesner said. “It’s not just an initial investment, but people who invest in something are more invested in it long term. So I think it’s just the community coming together to take care of the most vulnerable.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin takes a tour of a new mental health emergency care facility in Milwaukee
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin takes a tour of a new mental health emergency care facility in downtown Milwaukee on Friday, April 1, 2022. The center will provide 24-hour crisis care services to children, adolescents and adults. Christine Hatfield/WPR

Baldwin said there’s been a struggle around “lack of parity” when it comes to mental health care.

“We have to take care of all of our health,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said the resources available will help save lives.

“I think we can address these issues in silos, or we can address these issues as communities with every partner at the table,” Baldwin said. “We’re going to be more successful when we do the latter.”

Officials say they expect to be able to open the new center by September, despite concerns around staffing. County mental health services based out of the suburbs will remain available for the time being.

Children’s Wisconsin opened its own mental health walk-in clinic on its Milwaukee campus early last month.

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