Milwaukee residents, especially those with behavioral health conditions and their families, have one more opportunity to provide input about a planned North Side behavioral health facility. The last of four community conversations will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 25.
Milwaukee County’s Behavioral Health Division (BHD) has yet to choose a specific site for the outpatient facility, but hopes to open its doors in 2018.
“We want to make sure we are meeting your needs,” BHD Chief Administrative Officer Alicia Modjeska told 20 people gathered at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church on a rainy afternoon in December. “We are all here to listen to what you have to say,” she added.
The wide-ranging conversation touched on a variety of suggestions, including a serene, attractive environment, behavioral health trainings for the Milwaukee Police Department, childcare, gender-neutral restrooms and opportunities for family therapy.
“It’s not just one person’s issue,” noted Terri Ellzey. “There are usually more people involved in how that person got where they are.” Ellzey is a community intervention specialist for the Department of Health and Human Services Special Needs Housing Division.
Pastor Darryl Seay of Liberty and Truth Ministries led the meeting, emphasizing the importance of community input to the planning process. “Whatever happens today, you’ll be driving the conversation,” he said.
Seay asked participants to address three primary characteristics of the new facility: services and resources, staff and caregivers, and physical appearance.
Many attendees reported frustrating past experiences when attempting to access behavioral health services. Institutional obstacles can become insurmountable for people in a mental health crisis, experts said.
“If there is a delay in referrals or knowledge of resources, the person may stop looking,” said Ella Dunbar, a manager in the Health Wellness & Supportive Services division of the Social Development Commission. “If this North Side hub was to take place, there should be a better triage process than saying, ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘call this number.’”
Mojeska showed attendees a rough sketch of a floor plan intended to facilitate comfort for patients. BHD plans to have staff and caregivers move about the facility while patients can remain in one room rather than shuttling from one office to another.
The behavioral health facility will serve children and adults 24 hours per day, year-round. BHD will include pharmacy services, psychiatric and psychology nurses, social workers and peer specialists as well as benefits support, childcare, housing, a café and a special entrance for law enforcement to bring in individuals in crisis.
A primary care clinic is under consideration as well, a proposal that was met with great enthusiasm by meeting attendees.
Edna Kerney said that she has struggled with mental illness since childhood and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia. Kerney credits her peer specialist and the services she received at La Causa, Inc. with saving her life on several occasions.
She attended BHD’s meeting with the hope that speaking out about behavioral health issues will reduce stigma and encourage community engagement.
“I know sometimes I can be hard to deal with because I go up and down,” Kerney said. “You can be in the worst place but if you have someone there who cares, that can turn it all around.”