Hudson Hospital officials touted a new program aimed at resolving mental health crises that Gov. Tony Evers said should be funded through a Medicaid expansion when he visited the facility last week.

The pilot program, which debuted in September 2018, allows people in crisis to be connected with a licensed clinician. They receive a clinical intervention and a crisis assessment, which can either be done in person at Hudson Hospital or at six other hospitals in Polk, Pierce and St. Croix counties via videoconferencing.

Pete VanDusartz, director of program development for HealthPartners St. Croix Valley Behavioral Health, was among hospital officials lobbying for a second round of program funding. The videoconferencing program, funded through a $250,000 state grant, is the first of its kind in Wisconsin, VanDusartz said. Six other western Wisconsin hospitals partner with Hudson in the program, which is supported by county-level human services departments, the state and Northwest Connections.

VanDusartz said the strength of the program is that it empowers the clinician to diagnose the patient and make the call on options for care, which may include emergency detention.

"It's going great," he said. "Everybody loves this thing."

The program tackles one aspect of an issue that has increasingly vexed officials around St. Croix County. Beds for people experiencing mental crises that reach the point of an emergency detention are limited in western Wisconsin, forcing law enforcement to drive those people four hours away to facilities in the Oshkosh area.

VanDusartz said the clinicians' assessment can prevent some transports that, under a less thorough evaluation, would be unnecessary. He said the previous system left that call up to an emergency room team that's not specifically trained in mental health issues.

Funding for beds closer to St. Croix County, or reimbursement to local hospitals that might allocate beds, remains a sticking point as state and local officials seek solutions.

Evers said funding for emergency detention services is "critical," but that funding should come from Medicaid expansion dollars that Wisconsin turned down under former Gov. Scott Walker.

Emergency detention funding will "hinge upon us being able to access as much Medicaid money as possible," Evers said in Hudson - his first visit to St. Croix County since being sworn into office - after a tour of the facility.

Secretary of Department of Health Services Andrea Palm said those funds could help relieve crisis-mental health costs currently borne by counties.

"We think some investment in state dollars to help ease that burden and share that responsibility will allow more counties to do more work regionally," she said, offering the Hudson Hospital program as an example.

Rep. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, has been working with county and hospital officials to draft emergency detention-related legislation. He said he's increasingly receptive to a two-pronged approach that blends both the pilot program and efforts to subsidize hospital funding for emergency detentions.

Stafsholt said in February that emergency detention legislation was taking shape for this legislative session. He did not return a call seeking comment Monday.