Panel approves $15.8 million for mental health institutes
The Legislature's budget committee overwhelmingly approved state health officials' request Wednesday to pump millions of dollars more into upgrades at Wisconsin's mental health institutions.
The Department of Health Services asked the Joint Finance Committee for authorization to spend an additional $15.8 million beyond the state budget on improvements and additions at the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, the Winnebago Mental Health Institute near Oshkosh and three centers for the mentally disabled in Madison, Union Grove and Chippewa Falls.
The agency asked for permission to spend $10.6 million to upgrade information technology at all the institutions and centers so they can shift to an electronic health records system.
The DHS also asked to spend $1 million to finish renovating two unused units at Mendota to accommodate 20 additional beds for people committed in criminal cases. The agency requested another $1 million, too, to start design work on building two more housing units for the criminally convicted.
The 2013-15 capital budget included $5.7 million in borrowing for accommodating the 20 additional beds but that wasn't enough to complete the renovation. DHS asked lawmakers for $13.3 million in borrowing as part of the 2015-17 budget to build the additional housing units but the request wasn't included in the final spending plan.
The agency also requested authorization to spend $1.4 million for a patient monitoring system at Mendota; $1.2 million to finish building a five-bed unit at Winnebago for female criminal patients; and $600,000 to help criminal defendants in the Milwaukee County Jail regain competency to stand trial.
DHS officials say the additional money would help reduce a backlog of people waiting to get into Mendota. Currently, usually more than 40 people are waiting to get into the institution at any given time, with the average stay on the waitlist more than 30 days, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
The money would come out of a $33.2 million balance in the DHS' mental health facility operations account. The balance was built with payments from counties, who pay for their civil commitments and Medicaid payments.
The Republican-controlled finance committee approved the spending requests unanimously. Democrats on the panel complained that the GOP hasn't moved faster to fund the institutions' needs.
"Obviously, we need to spend this money," Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said. "We haven't really made the capital investment in these facilities."
The request is still subject to Gov. Scott Walker's approval. Walker's spokeswoman said in an email that he supports the request.