Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's the Policy Stupid

Today the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board called for the firing of Milwaukee County Behavioral Health administrator John Chianelli. Milwaukee County First, this blog and many others have been sounding alarms about the problems at BHD for quite a long time. In fact, I remember saying last year that if Scott Walker didn't change course on his BHD policy that he was going to own the incompetence. Maybe the MJS Editorial and the in depth front page stories this week will finally motivate him to actually do something different at BHD. The first thing that he should do is change the policy and the failed formulas that his administration have used there.

These numbers speak for themselves and they reveal longstanding Walker Administration policy.

  • 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.

  • In 2001 overtime costs stood at $2,807,027 (or the equivalent of 77.5 positions). After all of the years of drastically cutting staff at BHD, actual overtime in 2008 shot up to $4,719,383 (or the equivalent of 87 positions).

  • In 2008 there were 113 positions at BHD that were fully funded but not filled.

  • While the MJS lists a variety of reasons in their call for firings, these numbers can not be dismissed. They represent a clear pattern of policy by the Walker administration that have resulted in an overstretched staff at BHD.

    To hear Scott Walker's response ("I formed a committee a few months ago") to the current crisis at BHD, one would think that these problems were new. Sadly preventable tragedies and bad conditions at BHD have occurred throughout most of Walker's tenure as county executive.

  • In 2006 there were starvation and overdose deaths that brought serious warnings from State and Federal regulators.

  • In 2007 there was a 50% increase in assaults on staff.

  • In late 2009 you have the Walker appointee at BHD failing to do timely due diligence and throwing the entire county's budget into near chaos.

  • Now you have sexual assaults at the Mental Health Complex for which BHS was cited and it could have lost $60 million in federal funding.

  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial is correct. There should be multiple firings at BHD. But no one should be under the illusion that such action would correct the problems in the division because many of them come from flawed policy. It is the same kind of policy that put the Milwaukee County House of Correction in full crisis mode in 2007 and 2008. It is the same kind of policy that caused a meltdown in Milwaukee County's Economic Support Division. It seems that all of these issues share a common thread. You can't ignore the Walker policy of seeking short term gain through massive staff cuts. This politically expedient approach has proven to have long term consequences. Sometimes they manifest themselves in dollars, sometimes as terrible tragedies and sometimes they manifest themselves as both. In the end if these kinds of flawed policies are not fully acknowledged and addressed, a few firings are not going to solve our problems.

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