First Lady Tonette Walker

New $600,000 grant to help address mental health care barriers

By Aarik Woods of WQOW: Eau Claire, WI
Monday, March 4, 2013

Cost and access are two barriers to mental health care in western Wisconsin.

A new grant could help address both concerns, especially in rural areas.

Recently, we aired a series about mental health services, and the shortcomings locally. Monday, the state announced a $600,000 grant to improve services in seven western Wisconsin counties.

"We really want to start with a needs assessment. We want to understand what core benefits are being provided throughout the region, and in what ways," said Jill Chaffee, Operations Administrator for the Western Region Recovery and Wellness Consortium, or WRRWC.

A new grant may soon help county health departments in western Wisconsin better serve their patients.

"We're really trying to get what we call a core level of mental health services in these seven counties, regardless of the geographic location. Right now, we don't have that. There are disparities," said Larry Winter, director of the Chippewa County Department of Human Services.

So just what are some of those disparities?

"It's very difficult, for example, for a rural county to have the staff, and the infrastructure necessary to bill for Medicaid," Winter explained.

"There are certain core benefits we talked about, such as detoxification, mental health crisis services. The county already funds a vast majority of them, but in some of the smaller counties, they're not able to have the same intensity level, or the same type of service," Chaffee said.

They hope to address that with a new $600,000 grant. The money will be split evenly over seven counties in western Wisconsin, covering three years.

"One part of the money is going to be used for my position, in order to lead this project. Another portion of the money is going to be used on the information technology piece."

By working with agencies to share information, the plan is to provide better services across the entire region. It starts with assessing who needs what, which will happen over the course of the next few months.

"I'm going to each of the counties, having discussions about the 30 core benefits, which are everything from intensive in home counseling, crisis services, intensive outpatient services...finding out which services do the counties currently provide, and how do they provide them," Chaffee said.

Wisconsin's first lady was on hand for Monday's announcement.

"If we can be smarter about the way we treat people with mental health, I think it only can benefit all of the people of Wisconsin," said Tonette Walker.

"We believe, by looking at our system and designing it differently, we can be more proactive, and be able to help people get the support they need earlier," Winter said.

Barron, Buffalo, Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin and Pierce County are all covered by the grant.