- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The state Senate passed a series of bills Wednesday designed to improve Wisconsin’s mental health services, including one that would create special crisis response teams and another that provides grants to encourage psychiatrists and doctors to work in underserved areas.

The bills, which unanimously passed in the Assembly in November, now head to Gov. Scott Walker for his consideration. The Senate passed them with bipartisan support and no debate. Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson said the governor looked forward to signing them into law.

The proposals grew out of a task force created last year by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Walker and the Legislature promised to tackle mental health reforms after the 2012 mass shootings at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek and Brookfield spa. Numerous stories about individuals who encountered problems with obtaining mental health services in the state have also motivated lawmakers to act.

The state budget passed last year by the Legislature allocated nearly $29 million more toward services for those with mental health problems. That included more than $10 million to expand community-based programs for adults and children with mental illness and $12.5 million for additional forensic units at the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison.

The bills passed Wednesday would spend another $4 million by mid-2015. They would:

- Provide $1.5 million in tax-deductible grants to encourage psychiatrists and primary care physicians to practice in underserved areas. The money would go to up to 12 new physicians and up to 12 new psychiatrists a year.

- Spend $1 million over two years to create a hotline that psychiatrists treating children and teenagers with mental health issues could use for consultation. Supporters say this is important because of the lack of child psychologists in rural areas.

- Create a $970,000 grant program to help find jobs for people with serious mental illnesses.

- Provide $250,000 over the next two years to counties to create teams to serve people having mental health crises. Fifty-seven counties currently have mobile crisis teams established.

- Spend $250,000 over the next two years to pay for peer-run respite centers for people with mental health or substance abuse issues. The goal is to reduce dependence on the mental health system by having services provided by people who have completed recovery programs already.

- Provide $250,000 over two years to train correctional and law enforcement officials about how to effectively respond to citizens experiencing a behavioral crisis.

- Require the state Department of Health Services to report by the end of the year, and every two years after that, on what mental health services are being provided in every county.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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