Mental health transports straining area police departments

Mental health transports straining area police departments

Portage’s police chief said his department is just one of many throughout South Central Wisconsin burdened by regular long-distance emergency detention transports for mental health patients.

Previously, officers were able to take emergency detention patients to the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison. Now officers are most often taking patients to a state facility in Winnebago County, a roughly three-hour round trip from Portage.

“When my officers have to transport an emergency detention over to Winnebago, I lose that officer for sometimes the entire shift,” Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey said.

Sometimes, Manthey said, officers will have to take patients to facilities in Fond du Lac or Oconomowoc instead of Winnebago. He said the extra drive time associated with long-distance mental health patient transports not only costs Portage additional money for officer overtime, but creates concerns over officer safety.

“We try to have at least three officers working the road 24/7 and if I lose one officer we’re either short or we have to pay overtime,” Manthey said.

The chief said being down an officer particularly impacts the department’s night shift, where officers tend to handle more serious calls like domestic disputes or additional mental health emergencies, because those calls usually require a response from multiple officers.

In addition to the strain on police departments, Columbia County Health and Human Services Director Dawn Woodard said the longer distance to treatment facilities isn’t good for patients either. She said the distance can take patients farther away from their families, disconnect them from the court process and make the treatment process more difficult.

“If facilities were closer, their treatment providers in the community could maintain that contact while they’re in the facility and be more actively involved the psychiatrists and other providers at the facility,” Woodard said. “There would be a better continuity of care.”

Manthey said he hopes the state will once again allow officers to transport emergency detention patients to the Mendota facility.

“We took [the Mendota facility] for granted, I guess, and once we lost that, we realized how time consuming this can be,” Manthey said.