Physicians criticize the law as outdated, vague and severe. Health systems are scrambling to guide them on how to stay out of criminal trouble.
People in Wisconsin and Minnesota living just barely above the poverty line are about to see their health care fortunes change — in opposite directions.
In Lisa Nerenhausen’s house, the consequences of the state of Wisconsin’s approach to the Affordable Care Act are mixed.
It’s called the Affordable Care Act, but it looks as though obtaining health care coverage on the new private exchanges will generally be much more affordable in Minnesota than Wisconsin.
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.
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.
A new Wisconsin law, which went into effect in February 2011, bars families from using state health investigation records in state civil suits filed against long-term providers, including nursing homes and hospices. It also makes such records inadmissible in criminal cases against health care providers accused of neglecting or abusing patients.
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.
• 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.
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.
Michael Richards sometimes finds himself telling people, “I’m not your typical lobbyist.” But in fact, that’s exactly what he is.
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.