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News & Press: Legislative Updates

Mental health committee green lights emergency detention bill

Wednesday, November 8, 2017  
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November 8, Wisconsin Health News

The Assembly’s mental health reform committee has unanimously approved a bill that would prohibit law enforcement from transporting an individual to emergency detention from an emergency room unless a hospital or medical staff member gives the OK.

The bill, a result of about three years of negotiation with the Wisconsin Counties Association and the Wisconsin Hospital Association, also extends immunity under the emergency detention statute to healthcare providers.

Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, called the bill an “important piece of legislation” but asked for clarification from Legislative Council in response to a memo from Mental Health America of Wisconsin.

In the memo, Mental Health America of Wisconsin agreed on the need for medical clearance but asked for clearer language to ensure that it does not override the authority of counties to make final disposition determinations.

“Part of my concern is not creating a circular firing squad, so to speak, where it’s not like everyone is pointing their finger at somebody else and saying, ‘We’re giving this to you, it’s not ours,'” Sargent said.

Brian Larson, senior staff attorney for the committee, said his reading of the bill is that it doesn’t override the county’s authority.

Under law though, individuals can only be detained for 72 hours without a court order. So a county’s decision could be “kind of considered a conditional approval” if someone ends up needing an emergency room for 72 hours, Larson said.

“This statutory change makes it so that when the county is giving its approval, it’s basically saying, ‘We approve the emergency detention once the person is suitable to be detained,’” he said.