Granite Hills Hospital, located in West Allis, contracts with Milwaukee County to serve as the psychiatric hospital for people who do not have private insurance. (Devin Blake / Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service)
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A version of this story was first published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, a nonprofit news organization that covers Milwaukee’s diverse neighborhoods.

Granite Hills Hospital, the private psychiatric hospital for people who do not have private insurance that contracts with Milwaukee County, has corrected serious safety deficiencies, the state’s Division of Quality Assurance, or DQA, reports.

The DQA is a division within the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that helps monitor medical facilities.

In December, Granite Hills Hospital was found to be in violation of health and safety regulations. 

NNS reported in March that family members and mental health advocates were concerned about the safety of patients at Granite Hills, which plays a central part in the plans to reimagine Milwaukee County’s mental health system to better serve those in need.

Failures by staff

The hospital’s deficiencies included a failure by staff to identify instances of assault, aggression or possible abuse at the facility as well as a failure to report the instances to the appropriate authorities.

“The cumulative effect of these systemic problems reduces the ability to ensure a safe environment for patients and staff and affects all patients and staff in the facility,” according to the DQA report filed in July.

Deficiencies of sufficient seriousness such as these are known as “condition” level deficiencies, Mike Lappen, chief executive officer of the county’s Behavioral Health Division, said in an email.

If not corrected, the hospital would have faced possible decertification and would no longer be able to participate in state and federal programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

In an email, Angela Sanders, chief executive officer of Granite Hills Hospital, said: “We value the perspective our surveyors provide, embrace feedback, and are committed to continuous improvement. Any issues or complaints are thoroughly investigated and reviewed as they are identified.”

Fewer calls to police

According to records requested from the West Allis Police Department, from February to mid-July, there were roughly nine calls regarding battery or assault by patients against staff; four calls regarding battery or assault between patients; and one call regarding battery or assault between staff members.

This rate of calls has decreased compared to last year, from January 2022 to January 2023. During that time period, there were roughly 20 calls to West Allis police about battery or assault against patients by other patients; and roughly 25 calls concerning battery or assault against staff by patients.

Sanders would not comment directly about continued calls to the West Allis Police Department but said the hospital has a “productive, solid working relationship” with the department, something that is “important for every behavioral health facility, given the field of service we are in.”

Staffing problems continue

A problem throughout health care – nationwide – continues to be recruiting and keeping staff.

For example, Lappen said, Advocate Aurora Health is closing its psychiatric unit at Aurora St. Luke’s South Shore in September and consolidating behavioral health programming at its Wauwatosa facility. 

“I just think it’s important to point out that many are critical of Granite Hills for their issues recruiting and retaining staff,” Lappen said. “But each major hospital system has now closed a unit in our market in the last year, citing staffing issues as the reason.”

“I have never seen anything like this as far as staff openings and the inability to find anyone across the behavioral health system,” Lappen added.

Devin Blake is the criminal justice reporter for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. His position is funded by the Public Welfare Foundation, which plays no role in editorial decisions in the NNS newsroom.

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Devin Blake started as a journalist at Patch, writing about the Southern California neighborhoods he grew up in. He focused on local business communities throughout the area and was drawn to stories about unemployment, worker resources, and businesses that were filling unmet needs in their communities.

Watching the homelessness crisis continue to deepen over those years, he began working as a resource and information coordinator for community groups and nonprofits so they could better serve populations without stable housing—populations that included the elderly, developmentally delayed and those with HIV/AIDs, among others.

Blake has contributed to a number of publications, including New York magazine, The Onion, and McSweeney’s. He loves spending time with his wife and negotiating with his 2-year-old son.