Wisconsin Gov. Evers takes action on mental health bills

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Friday signed legislation that helps expand the state’s crisis care infrastructure for people experiencing a mental health crisis by setting criteria and funding for two new centers.

The governor, at the same time, vetoed a bill that would have allowed out-of-state mental health care providers with licenses in other states to offer telehealth services in Wisconsin.

The legislation signed into law allows people in crisis to be treated closer to home and reduces the amount of time law enforcement and first responders spend transporting them for emergency detentions, Evers said in a news release.

The 2023-25 budget signed by Evers provided $10 million to establish two crisis urgent care and observation centers. Senate Bill 462, now Wisconsin Act 249, builds upon this by establishing a certification process for these regional facilities and a grant program to develop and support them, the governor said. The grant program will utilize the $10 million allocated in the 2023-25 budget, he said.

According to Wisconsin Examiner, many people in crisis now have to be transported to Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh. New locations haven’t been specified, but they must be at least 100 miles from Winnebago. The legislation was co-authored by Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Rep. Clint Moses, R-Menomonie.

“Since 2019, my administration has been working to find solutions to the burgeoning crisis of mental health in our state, and specifically, to address the burdens law enforcement agencies, healthcare providers, counties, and others have faced with our current crisis response infrastructure,”

Evers said. “This critical step will help Wisconsinites experiencing a crisis get the urgent care and treatment they need closer to home and their support systems while helping to alleviate the burdens on law enforcement and local counties.”

According to the governor’s office, Wisconsin Act 249:

— Expands the state’s crisis urgent care and observation facility infrastructure by requiring the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to establish a certification process for crisis urgent care and observation facilities, which are identified as treatment facilities that admit an individual to prevent, de-escalate, or treat the individual’s mental health or substance use disorder and that include the structure and staff necessary to support an individual’s needs.

— Requires DHS to create a grant program to support and develop these facilities utilizing the $10 million set aside in the 2023-25 biennial budget for this purpose.

— Requires these facilities to accept all referrals for adults, optionally accept youths, and have the authority to take custody of emergency detention cases without prior medical clearance at an emergency room.

— Requires facilities to coordinate, to the fullest extent possible, with any facility supported by funding received from the National Prescription Opiate Litigation.

— Specifies that the provisions of the bill cannot be construed to prohibit, limit, or otherwise interfere with services provided by a county, hospital, or other facility that are provided consistent with the facility’s current licensure or certification.

— Requires DHS to obtain approval from JFC under a 14-day passive review process before certifying a location as a crisis urgent care and observation facility.

— Allows any facility that currently is providing crisis intervention services to continue to provide these services without obtaining certification from DHS.

Also on Friday, Evers vetoed Assembly Bill 541, which would have given Wisconsinites greater options to access mental health services from telehealth providers from out of state.

According to IRG Action Fund, Evers temporarily allowed residents during the COVID-19 pandemic to use telehealth services from out-of-state providers. Supporters of the legislation said making that action permanent would especially help people in rural and underserved areas, as well as college students from other states.

In his veto message, Evers said the legislation could result in Wisconsinites receiving lower quality of care while providing fewer protections for people who may receive poor treatment or experience unethical behavior from a provider. Credentialing examining boards in Wisconsin and the Department of Safety and Professional Services have no jurisdiction in other states, he said.

IRG Action Fund, a non-profit group that advances conservative policies, said the bill had bipartisan support and would have dramatically expanded the pool of providers.

“We are disappointed that Gov. Tony Evers refused to deliver a bipartisan win for mental health,” IRG Action Executive Vice President Chris Reader said in a news release Friday. “Wisconsinites all across the state recognize AB 541 is a commonsense solution that will change lives by expanding the number of providers for critical mental health treatments,” he said.


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