Monday, March 29, 2010

The Walker Way is to Walk Away

I have been complaining for some time about Scott Walker's neglect and his administration's incompetence regarding the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division. While individual workers and staff at BHD do a tremendous job, the higher levels of "management" and the Walker Administration have not given them the support that they need. The result of Walker administration incompetence has been disastrous over the years, and a clear and tragic pattern has been developing. Unfortunately the most vulnerable are repeatedly paying the heavy price for it.

In recent months we have seen the reports of sexual assaults of patients and poor conditions that are threatening to wipe out federal funding at BHD. As if these reports were not bad enough, some of the responses by Walker administration officials were contemptible. One of those officials appeared to minimize the sexual assaults by explaining that "this is not a case where there was a fatality or serious injury." One must assume that this disturbing reaction is official Walker administration policy since he took no observable action to correct the record.

Sadly the recent news of sexual assaults is not the first serious problem at BHD. In 2007 there was a 50% rise in assaults on staff. In 2006 the facility was cited by the State after a starvation death and other tragic issues. In 2005 there were preventable drug-related overdose deaths. This is not to even mention some of the budgetary and administrative bungling.

We are obviously witnessing a disturbing pattern of serious problems at BHD and Walker has apparently decided to walk away from them each and every time. When his administration received a letter of concern from a state legislator, he refused to comment and referred it to a county attorney. Maybe Walker is so willing to walk away from these tragic problems because he is worried that his short-staffing and short-funding of BHD will become a topic of discussion. Consider some of the following:

  • Scott Walker has repeatedly cut staff at BHD. In 2001 there were 1,053.1 funded position equivalents. In 2008 that number went down to 890.9 and in his 2010 proposed budget he wanted to put it all the way down to 746.7.
  • Cutting positions like this may play well to his political base, but it is a huge mistake to assume that cutting positions always makes fiscal sense. For example, in 2001 overtime costs stood at $2,807,027 (or the equivalent of 77.5 positions). After all of these years of drastically cutting staff at BHD, actual overtime in 2008 shot up to $4,719,383 (or the equivalent of 87 positions).
  • One might assume that Walker's constant cuts and pushes to privatize at BHD equals less spending. That assumption would be completely wrong. In the 2002 adopted budget, BHD was slotted to have $136,850,224 in expenditures. In the 2009 adopted budget, that number jumped up to $187,598,123.

With a record like that, you have to wonder if there isn't a link between Walker's short sighted politically driven policies and some of the major issues that have occurred repeatedly on his watch. Maybe that explains why he is so willing to walk away, when someone starts asking the tough questions.

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