Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chris Abele's Blood Stained Hands

When Chris Abele decided to privatize Milwaukee County's Behavioral Health Division, it raised red flags for the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, AFSCME and other unions.  They warned of the perils of doing this:
What really brings this all home is the fact that Meg Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just came out with a four-part article regarding the struggles one family is having with the inadequate community-based support system that Abele is trying to tell people is all we need. Adding to the irony of the timing is the fact that the case manager in the story is from Milwaukee Center for Independence, the same agency that Abele is contracting with for the majority of services.

The end game of all of this is that if Abele continues on his amoral, irresponsible course, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the community receiving inadequate services, and presenting a danger to themselves or to others. After several contacts with police and various psychiatric service agencies, many of these people will end up in jail, in prison, in state institutions or, worst of all, dead.  These are prices in both the human and the fiscal sense that we should not have to take on, especially when it is all for the money grubbing of some of Abele's closest cronies.
But Abele would not abide having safety nets in place. He bleated about "best practices" and "moral obligations," and was cheered on by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Meg Kissinger.  Abele uses these cynical buzzwords to rationalize that he wants to close the mental health complex and sell it off - most likely to Froedtert Hospital and/or Children's Hospital - in another no bid sweetheart deal.

Instead of doing the right thing, Abele rand to his personally owned state representative, Joe Sanfelippo, and had the state legislature take away control of the mental health system from Milwaukee County. Rather, they created an unelected panel on Abele's cronies with taxing authority to auction off our most vulnerable citizens to corporate profiteers.

Sadly, the dire predictions of the county board and the unions have been realized.  A couple of weeks ago, a woman with a history of mental health issues and drug addiction, was taken out of jail and left out in the cold to die:
Janet R. Johnson was discovered by Milwaukee police about 6:15 a.m. Wednesday in the 3500 block of W. Clarke St. Officers had been sent to the area for a report of gunfire and found Johnson crawling on the street, cold to the touch and mumbling, according to reports released Thursday by the Milwaukee County medical examiner's office.

According to those records:

Johnson's pants were partially pulled down, and authorities have noted a common side effect of hypothermia is removing clothing, known as paradoxical undressing. She also was found with drug paraphernalia.

Detectives learned that Johnson, a chronic cocaine user, was released from jail about 9 a.m. Tuesday and went to Wisconsin Community Services, 3732 W. Wisconsin Ave., to find a home placement. From there, Johnson was taken to the United Community Center and was supposed to become an inpatient at the facility, but instead she was evaluated and discharged, the detective told medical investigators.

Johnson's father took her back to Wisconsin Community Services, where she stayed until about 2 p.m. Tuesday, when she left to go to Walgreens. She did not return.

When officers found her the next day, they called Milwaukee Fire Department paramedics who tried to revive her. She was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead at 9:09 a.m. Wednesday. Her body temperature was about 80 degrees, and medical investigators say complications of hypothermia have not been ruled out as a cause of death.
It took Abele nearly a full week to figure out that maybe, just maybe, there should be an investigation into Johnson's death.  Oddly, instead of Abele's Mental Health Board doing the investigation, Abele is having the Department of Health and Human Services looking into it.  Did Abele forget that the county has no say in its own mental health system, thanks to him?  Or is that he is looking to cover up the predicted failings of his privatization scheme?

One thing that is evident from the shoddy reporting is that the county and private agencies are busy pointing the fingers at each other and doing whatever they can to avoid taking their responsibility for this tragedy.  These are common problems with privatization - added expenses but less services and less accountability.

Two county supervisors - Michael Mayo, Sr, and Steve Taylor - have put the onus back on the Mental Health Board:
Dear Members of the Mental Health Board,

The family of Ms. Janet Johnson deserves an independent and impartial investigation into the tragic circumstances surrounding her death during the recent cold weather streak.

According to media reports, Ms. Johnson lived with a mental illness and had a series of contacts with the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex. Recently, police found her lying in the street partially clothed in below zero temperatures. Ms. Johnson died from exposure just a few short hours later.

The media reports added that Ms. Johnson had been diagnosed with schizophrenia earlier in her life and had been had been found in a snowbank with frostbite setting in last year. Further, she had been in and out of treatment facilities, including the Mental Health Complex. She was also placed in the Milwaukee County Jail shortly before her death.

Members of the community are concerned that people with serious mental health issues continue to suffer tragic consequences in Milwaukee. We are hopeful that your attention to this matter will result in the development of a clear line of accountability for the family and the public at large.

This tragedy also represents an opportunity for the Mental Health Board to develop a protocol to address complex cases like Ms. Johnson’s in the future. The public may find independent reviews, rather than department-led
ones, more credible when determining whether there was a lapse in the mental health network of care. Such a demonstration of impartiality can be critical to assure the public that the close personal and professional
relationships between contractors and a providers do not influence the findings of an independent investigation.

The public deserves answers regarding Ms. Johnson’s death, especially because of her many interactions with the mental health system and the jail. Specifically, what steps were taken by the jail, the Department of Health and Human Services, and community providers to ensure that Ms. Johnson received a proper home placement and appropriate health care?

The public has been left with the impression that Ms. Johnson was kicked out on the street when she was clearly unable to care for herself. Your attention to this matter is appreciated.
There have been no reports that the Mental Health Board will do their job regarding this case. Then again, the Mental Health Board only meets sporadically. Furthermore, since one of Abele's cronies is the head of the board, she won't take action unless Abele tells her to. Given Abele's nearly allergic aversion to responsibility, accountability and the truth, don't hold your breath for this to happen any time soon.

Make no mistake, the responsibility for Johnson's death lies squarely at Abele's feet and her blood is on his hands.  While the county and the private agencies try to distract with their finger pointing, it was Abele who willfully created this situation despite all the warnings.  He needs to take ownership of his role in this wholly avoidable tragedy.

Sadly, Abele will get away without blame, because as he learned from his friend and mentor, Scott Walker, no one cares about crazy people.

On a side note, it should also be noted that Kissinger is no longer bragging about her role in this fiasco.  Now why would that be?

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