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Bill would bring 22 new mental health beds to the Chippewa Valley


Eau Claire (WQOW)- Tuesday, the Assembly passed a bill to help those struggling with mental illness, and save western Wisconsin millions of dollars.

The bill passed with 97-0.

Back in December, Governor Tony Evers vetoed a $15 million appropriation to add mental health treatment beds at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire.

Related: Local lawmakers clash over mental health

Lawmakers were unsuccessful in their attempt to override the governor's veto, so lawmakers proposed a stand-alone bill.

If passed, the measure would give HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph's Hospital $15 million to expand and provide 22 psychiatric beds.

Toni Simonson, the behavior health executive director for both hospitals, said they would add four more beds to Sacred Heart's behavior health unit so they'd have 33 beds for adults only.

Simonson said at St. Joseph's they'd create a brand new adolescent unit with 18 beds.

"The inpatient unit is currently full," Simonson said. "It is often full and so often patients will present to our emergency department and we're not able to accept them because we have no available beds and therefore a transport needs to occur."

State data shows from 2013 to 2017, the state's mental health institute in Oshkosh saw a whopping 284% increase in patient visits from western Wisconsin.

Lawmakers said the four-hour drive to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute can be dangerous for mentally ill patients.

They hope the bill will not only provide more mental health access but also be cost-effective for northern counties.

"It basically guarantees that the money is paid back where they have more savings and the money cost upfront so it's a chance for us to pass a bill hopefully with bipartisan support if people stick to what they've said in the media and then we can get Governor Evers to hopefully sign it and get that issue behind us," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in Madison on Tuesday.

The bill now advances to the Senate.

Shannon Satterlee

Shannon Satterlee joined News 18 in February 2018 as a Multi-Media Journalist.

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