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DHS says its 'proud' of controversial facility

Baraboo rep, mayor want to explore other options for mental health care placement

BARABOO, Wis. - In a letter to Senator Jon Erpenbach and Representative Fred Clark, the secretary of Department of Health Services said she is "proud of the care and caution that Dungarvin and Care Wisconsin exercised" in planning for a mental health care facility in Baraboo.

The companies don't need a license to house 26-year-old Jeremy Felix at 616 Sauk Avenue. Neighbors and Baraboo Police have voiced concerns about Felix's violent history. Lt. Rob Sinden said there have been at least a dozen reports of employees injured at the facility since Felix moved in February.

The DHS said Dungarvin and Care Wisconsin took 18 months to plan Felix's placement. The report said Baraboo's police chief was made aware of the situation 10 days after Felix moved in.

Lynette Lauersdorf lives in the same neighborhood and works as a mental health caregiver. She said she was not told anything about Felix's placement and more information might have made her neighbors more accepting of the situation.

"He has every right to live here, and I get very passionate about it because they're trying to run him out and he doesn't deserve it,' Lauersdorf said.

Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm said the town and neighbors should have been notified long before that.

"A call to the mayor, a call to the police chief, the fire chief, should have been on that list of things to do besides build a padded cell," Palm said.

Palm said he is waiting to see if the Sauk County District Attorney will press assault charges for the workers that were reportedly hurt by Felix in the home. OSHA is also investigating the employees' workplace safety.

DHS cleared the company of any violations to state and federal mental health care laws.

"This is one report, so let's see what the rest of these come back as," Palm said.

Rep. Clark said while he appreciates the review from the DHS, he would have liked to see neighbors' thoughts considered in the report.

"So the records are up to date. Fine. We appreciate that," Clark said. "But the people living around this area know what's going on and know what would be expected of them if in fact the worst case scenario happened."

Clark said it will take more research, but he plans to propose legislation to make licensing mandatory for this kind of placement. In addition, he would like to see more detailed policies on the books for notifying neighborhoods about similar mental health facilities.

In the meantime, Clark wants to make sure that all options are explored and that Dungarvin and Care Wisconsin are doing what's best for the neighborhood and the client.

"It's going to be their responsibility to demonstrate that this could in fact be a safe environment for this individual," Clark said.

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