Wisconsin nursing homes fail to report deaths, injuries

Charles Pietrowski’s mother, Mary, fell and broke her hip at Sunrise Care Center in Milwaukee in January 2010. The nursing home did not report the incident to the Wisconsin health department, as required by law, and the state did not investigate the injury for more than seven months, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found. The state later determined that Pietrowski fell due to negligence.

Attorneys for families of residents say that facilities’ failure to report serious injuries or deaths related to abuse or neglect is not uncommon. Far more often, they say, the state health department only learns about a case of alleged neglect or abuse after a family member files a complaint. Advocates for health care providers stress that incidents of neglect and abuse are extremely rare, and can come to regulators’ attention in a variety of ways. Continue Reading

Center’s inquiries prompt state policy changes

A Wisconsin tort reform law passed two years ago made state inspection reports of nursing homes and other health care facilities inadmissible as evidence in civil and criminal cases. Proponents of the law say it lets providers discuss problems more openly, but critics argue it puts the elderly and vulnerable at risk. This woman, whose family asked that she not be identified, was a resident at a Sauk City nursing home.

In response to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s inquiries into an accident involving a 88-year-old woman at a Milwaukee nursing home, the state Department of Health Services launched an internal review, which concluded that state officials did not properly respond. As a result, the department says it has reviewed its intake procedures and made changes to ensure that complaints against nursing homes are triaged appropriately and investigated in a timely fashion. Continue Reading

Gaps remain in jails’ suicide prevention

Inmate at La Crosse County jail

Since 2003, 52 Wisconsin county jail inmates have taken their own lives. Department of Corrections jail inspector Nancy Thelen said that generally, Wisconsin’s 72 county-run jails are doing “a very good job with their suicide watches.”

But a Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism review of the counties’ most recent jail inspection records found that at least one-third of them had, like Monroe County, been cited for problems with their suicide prevention efforts. Continue Reading

Ignored and underfunded, mental health care thin at county jails

Inmate at La Crosse County jail

Key findings:
• Wisconsin’s county-run jails are overloaded with people with mental illness — but services are largely inadequate.
• The state Department of Corrections is charged with oversight but does not evaluate the quality of jails’ mental health care.
• For nearly a quarter-century, the Legislature has required the DOC to collect and summarize annual reports on jails’ mental health care, but most jails have not provided the information, and the DOC acknowledges it has not been asking for them.
• One-third of Wisconsin’s jails have been cited for inadequate suicide prevention efforts. Continue Reading

Bills would let health providers say, ‘I’m sorry’

A couple of years ago, Dr. Erik Severson transferred a heart patient to a different hospital. When the man died under Severson’s care, the physician took a risk as he broke the news to the man’s son. He apologized — although he knew his words could be used against him in court. Now a Republican lawmaker, Severson has introduced a bill to let doctors do just that without fearing malpractice.
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Wisconsin’s mental health system braces for major cuts under Walker

Donovan Richards remembers his mother, Paula Buege, crying on the phone when doctors told her that her son would be in a mental institution before he turned 10. Buege says it took a lot of persistence to get the help her son needed. "It was a real struggle to get services," she says. Donovan, now 17, plays in a band and wants to be a music teacher some day.

In interviews with mental health advocates and county and state officials, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found that Wisconsin’s public mental health system — once viewed as a national model — has become fragmented and underfunded. And many experts fear that as Gov. Scott Walker moves to close the state’s budget deficit, the mental health system will be weakened even further. Continue Reading