Coordination, privacy laws at center of mental health discussion - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Coordination, privacy laws at center of mental health discussion

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LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)-- On Tuesday Governor Scott Walker gathered nearly two dozen mental health experts and law enforcement officials to discuss ways the state can better provide mental health services in Wisconsin.

The renewed interest in mental health issues comes in the wake of mass shootings, like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. However Walker made it clear the discussion Tuesday was solely about mental health and not about gun control.

Walker, along with officials from the Wisconsin Department of Human Services led the discussion. Among those at the table was Dr. Ethan Everett from Gundersen Lutheran Health System.

"There's estimates that over the course of a lifetime, more than half of the population will have some sort of need for some sort of mental health or behavioral health treatment," Dr. Everett said.

For that reason, Dr. Everett says improving coordination between clinics and agencies, as well as state funding is essential.

"I let the Governor know that Wisconsin has the most complicated privacy laws in the country," Dr. Everett said.

Part of that law requires patients to sign waivers before their doctors can coordinate treatment, even if the physicians treating the patient work at the same clinic. It's a law that only applies to behavioral health issues, not other medical conditions.

"If it were up to me, I think reducing those barriers that get in the way of having different agencies and clinics and health care organizations being able to coordinate and cooperate on behalf of those patients we mutually serve, would go a long way."

While Gundersen has complete inpatient and outpatient behavioral health treatment, they still coordinate with other agencies, like the county.

The Director of Human services in La Crosse County, Jason Witt, says the state funding for adult mental health has not increased in more than a decade.

"With the inflationary costs that we've seen and then in the medical field, the purchasing power of the money we see is a lot less than a decade ago," Witt said. "So, it's really a reduction in terms of funding coming in to the county from the state for mental health services."

La Crosse County functions on a budget of about $9 million for adult mental health services. Three million of that is provided by grants and the state-- a dollar amount that hasn't increased in more than a decade.

"There's much more that could be done, more on the preventative and early intervention side, that ultimately would create more savings for the system," Witt said. "But, we're constrained to be able to do that not having the local or state dollars to put in to it at this time."

Dr. Everett says one way to increase early intervention…is to embed behavioral health professionals in to primary care settings.

"[It] would go a long way towards having a good on ramp for people in need of services, at a place where they're comfortable receiving those services."

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