The latest proposed solution to western Wisconsin’s lingering emergency detention problem was unveiled this week.
State Rep. Rob Stafsholt on Monday, Nov. 18, announced legislation that would create a voluntary pilot program allowing hospitals in some western Wisconsin counties to open up beds for emergency-detention patients. Participating hospitals would be reimbursed up to 80% of the difference between that facility’s average daily cost for treatment and the average reimbursement amount it gets for that service among Medicare, medical assistance and other insurance, according to a news release.
The program would be available for hospitals in Barron, Burnett, Dunn, Pierce, St. Croix and Washburn counties. Stafsholt said the estimated cost is $1 million.
The remaining 20% of costs would be shouldered by counties, he said.
“I wanted the county to have some skin in the game,” Stafsholt said.
He said research shows the average emergency detention costs $1,200-$1,500 a day.
Emergency detentions occur after law enforcement incidents where people are deemed a threat to themselves or others. The process calls for those people to be handcuffed and transported in the back of a squad car to the state’s secure mental health facility in Winnebago — a four-hour one-way trip.
Stafsholt said in the news release that law enforcement agencies tasked with doing the transports are frustrated with the time commitment and cost of transporting those patients “as well as what effects it has on the patient’s current mental state, recovery and future mental stability.”
Stafsholt, a New Richmond Republican, announced the legislation just hours before his campaign sent a news release stating he intends to challenge Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, in the 2020 election.
It’s likely the emergency detention issue will remain a contentious issue on the campaign trail. Emergency detention-related legislation was central to an unsuccessful veto override attempt earlier this month in the Assembly, leaving the issue unresolved after legislators adjourned for the year last week.
Stafsholt appeared to be targeting Schachtner in a floor speech he delivered during a Nov. 7 override attempt of legislation Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed.
Schachtner said she was miffed that Stafsholt would suggest he was “appalled” by her stance on legislation for a regional mental health beds — a bill she would later reverse course on and cosponsor, saying “doing something is better than doing nothing.”
Stafsholt used similar language in the Nov. 18 news release where he decried Evers’ veto of $15 million slated for additional mental health beds at an Eau Claire-area hospital.
“Instead of investing $15 million in a regional solution for northern Wisconsin, Gov. Evers vetoed this provision, and directed that those dollars go back to Madison,” Stafsholt said. “I’m tired of watching partisan politics being played with mental health and was appalled by the veto.”
Schachtner questioned the source of Stafsholt’s indignation, wondering aloud why he wasn’t similarly moved by a rise in Wisconsin suicides over the past decade.
“That’s appalling,” Schachtner said.
Stafsholt’s pilot-program news release lists a slate of fellow western-Wisconsin Assembly Republicans who are backing his new legislation. Schachtner described a lack of willingness among lawmakers within Senate District 10 to sit down and discuss the issue with her.
“I would show up anywhere for that to happen,” she said. “Why can’t we have a conversation where we all show up together? We all represent the same people.”
Stafsholt said he and Schachtner have been in many meetings over the years touching on mental health but said that hasn’t necessarily meant the two of them sitting down together in a Madison office.
“I think both of us are trying to find solutions to the problem,” he said. “Oftentimes we both want to get to the same point, we just have different approaches on how to get there.”