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Sen. Bernier pushing for more mental health help; proposes hospital expansion

Eau Claire (WQOW) – From 2013 to 2017, the state’s mental health institute in Oshkosh saw a whopping 284% increase in patient visits from western Wisconsin, according to state data.

Area patients undergoing mental health crises are still having to make that four-hour drive to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute because a closer option is not available.

State Senator Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) said police officers are taken off the streets for nearly a full day to escort, as patients needing treatment sit in the back of a squad car and are taken farther away from home.

Bernier is in the process of working with HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire.

She is proposing the hospital expand and said it would be half the cost of transport to the Winnebago facility.

HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls has proposed a separate mental health facility for adolescents, which is what Bernier says is the most important part.

“We are in dire need of a juvenile facility because we have to treat the juveniles and adolescents differently than the adults,” Bernier told News 18.

Two other bills would address the lack of access to mental health facilities.

One of those – $5 million in grant money for regional, crisis stabilization facilities.

The other, proposed by Representative Rob Stafsholt (R-New Richmond), suggests a voluntary pilot program for hospitals to add beds and would create regional grants to reimburse them.

Neither of those proposals are up for vote at this time, but all local lawmakers agree that there’s a great need for the addition of resources for mental health facilities in western Wisconsin.

McKenna Alexander

McKenna Alexander is the weekend anchor and a multimedia journalist for News 18. She started in June 2019. She was born in San Francisco, but spent the majority of her life growing up in Dallas.

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