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  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    5 crisis centers open across Wisconsin to help with mental health, drug use emergencies

    By Natalie Eilbert, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,


    For several years, mental health and substance use emergencies have steadily risen in Wisconsin, and the options for care haven't kept pace.

    Now, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has opened five new regional crisis stabilization facilities — in Waukesha, Beaver Dam, Wausau, La Crosse and Madison — in a move many agencies hope will mitigate emergency detention.

    The regional crisis stabilization centers offer a voluntary route for people experiencing a mental health emergency who can't stay in their community, but whose needs don't quite merit hospitalization, said Brianne Zaborowske, the lead crisis coordinator for DHS' Bureau of Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Services.

    In other words, they give people in crisis an alternative to emergency rooms, which are expensive and not necessarily built for mental health crises, and they can catch problems before law enforcement gets involved and people risk ending up in jail, which is unnecessary.

    "Crisis stabilization facilities are really an essential and necessary component of a healthy crisis continuum, and that's true nationwide, but it's especially true in Wisconsin," Zaborowske said.

    The plan has been in the works since 2021, when DHS set aside $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to support the development. The state's efforts build off a national campaign called "Crisis Now," which emphasizes the need for a safe place to go in crisis that is more targeted to a person's clinical needs. It promotes diversion, an intervention framework aimed at reducing or eliminating jail and involuntary psychiatric treatment.

    Gov. Tony Evers said in a Wednesday press release that opening the five facilities is a "tremendous step forward" but in the world of mental health, there's still much to do.

    More than 35,000 Wisconsinites sought crisis services in 2022. It's a need that mental health professionals don't see abating any time soon.

    "Our investment in these five crisis stabilization facilities for adults is a commitment to ensuring the right care is available at the right time in the right place for all state residents who need help," wrote Kirsten Johnson, secretary-designee for DHS.

    What can patients expect from these new facilities?

    Establishing crisis stabilization facilities has been part of a larger list of recommendations from a state coalition comprising Department of Justice, Department of Health Services, NAMI Wisconsin and others. Since at least 2021, the coalition has promoted diversion .

    In-patient psychiatric care, according to the state coalition, should be a last resort when an individual truly needs hospital-level care.

    By contrast, patients referred to one of the five crisis stabilization facilities are provided with services ranging from crisis de-escalation, individual crisis counseling, skill-building and coping skills, said Zaborowske. Another component of these facilities, one that is often overlooked, is the respite such a facility can offer.

    "A place away from the triggering crisis event can allow them time and space to de-escalate and put a plan in place to get into some outpatient services they need in order to resolve their crisis," Zaborowske said.

    Referrals go through an individual's county.

    New facilities are in keeping with Wisconsin's continuum-of-care model

    For Zaborowske, the five crisis stabilization facilities move the state toward a stronger continuum-of-care model, which connects more facility types and services. Evers recently signed Act 249 , which requires DHS to establish a certification process for crisis urgent care and observation facilities. Those facilities will accept both voluntary and involuntary individuals, which means fewer people are being sent more than 100 miles away to Winnebago Mental Health Institute.

    The hope, Zaborowske said, is that if someone contacts 988, Wisconsin's crisis suicide and crisis lifeline, and needs a next level of care, that they access that "a little bit more seamlessly."

    People can access these centers by referral through the mental health and substance use emergency hotline for their county of residence. These hotlines are known as county crisis lines .

    People experiencing mental health and substance use emergencies should call, text, or chat the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for help from a trained counselor. If the situation is life threatening, they should call 911.

    Natalie Eilbert covers mental health issues for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She welcomes story tips and feedback. You can reach her at or view her Twitter profile at @natalie_eilbert .

    This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 5 crisis centers open across Wisconsin to help with mental health, drug use emergencies

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