Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Change of Culture Needed at BHD

Today the Milwaukee Journal is reporting that there is a new proposed plan for the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex. It suggests a shift to smaller, community-based facilities. Frankly, I'm not sure if this exact plan is the answer but I think that this kind of dialogue and sharing of constructive ideas is a good thing for what has been and is a very troubled facility. One ingredient that is a must, regardless of which option is ultimately chosen, is a major culture change among the administrators in the Behavioral Health Division.

I was greatly encouraged during the campaign to hear Milwaukee County Executive-elect Chris Abele talk about his vision for the Mental Health Complex in particular. I really think that he has the potential to bring fresh ideas that rely on a solutions-first approach. I remember hearing him on a WMCS radio program in the closing days of the campaign and he was talking about the importance of having a "change in culture". While he was talking about the county as a whole he specifically did mention the tragic dysfunction at the Mental Health Complex as a prime example. As someone that has a relative that receives services out there, I was greatly encouraged by his important words. It was no surprise to me that the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses endorsed him because they have a very direct interest in seeing dramatic change in how the Behavioral Health Division is "managed".

If there ever was an element of Milwaukee County government that needed a "change in culture" the Behavioral Health Division would definitely be it. Just about everyone in the state now knows about the repeated and unnecessary tragedies that took place at Milwaukee County's Mental Health Complex over years. Given the history of dysfunction, I have not been surprised to hear about the nasty internal politics and cronyism that exists among some of the key administrators and higher level staff.

Some of those rumors were confirmed for me last year when a number of BHD administrators signed a letter pledging their undying support for their incompetent administrator John Chianelli (see the full letter and signatories here). Even the Walker-coddling editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called for him and others at BHD to be fired. Later we even witnessed Scott Walker's administration finally demoting Chianelli. Word on the street is that some of the letter signers did so out of fear of losing their jobs. Others suggest that it was indicative of BHD's internal high pressure politics. One thing that was very clear about the letter was that many key administrators at BHD were (and are) totally tone deaf to reality. That is not a quality that is helpful to those that rely on the services that BHD is supposed to provide.

As our Milwaukee County elected officials continue to work on long lasting solutions for the problems at BHD, I hope that they remember the critical need for a major "culture change". Because no matter what formula you use for delivery of care, things wont sufficiently change if you continue with the same kind of "leadership" and the same kind of environment that has only served to exacerbate the terrible problems of the past.

To be continued...

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