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Milwaukee County sees increase in mental health emergency calls

Monday, May 11, 2020  
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May 8, Wisconsin Health News

Milwaukee County is seeing an increase in mental health emergency calls as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit.

The county saw a 70 percent increase in emergency medical services’ responses related to mental health concerns in March and April, compared to last year, said Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services at the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

There was a 54 percent increase in patient encounters with drug overdoses, and an 80 percent increase in suicide attempt encounters, he told reporters. Weston said the increase represent the “weight that COVID-19 places on our community.”

“We see the struggle with a person dying from COVID-19 on the ventilator in a hospital where no visitors are allowed, we see the struggle with the mother of three who’s furloughed from work who can’t pay her rent,” he said. “But many of those who make up these EMS percentages, which adds up to 1,884 calls of these types in March and April of this year, those individuals have a struggle that is often not seen.” 

Weston said that there are many reasons for despair, suggesting people can pick up a paper and “find about 10 on the front page.”

But he said there are reasons for hope with the epidemic, including that expanding testing and tracing infrastructure and a slow down in cases. And he said the community is nearing a time where social distancing can be gradually lifted. 

On Thursday, Advocate Aurora Health joined more health systems using a phased approach to resume elective procedures and ambulatory visits. Chief Nursing Officer Mary Beth Kingston said they’re ramping up their radiology and imaging visits in both Wisconsin and Illinois.

In Wisconsin, they’ve begun additional procedures. Starting next week, they’ll do the same in Illinois. 

She said this could vary site to site as they evaluate COVID-19 in the community, supplies, equipment and rate of hospitalization. 

“We are definitely increasing that dial, keeping the needs and safety of our patients and our team members at the front of all of our decisions,” she said. 

Chief Marketing Officer Kelly Jo Golson said the pandemic has accelerated innovation. She said that three months ago they set a goal of doubling the number of virtual care visits across the system. They’ve now grown it by seven times over, nearing more than 100,000 virtual visits across the organization with nearly 1,700 care providers delivering care virtually. 

The health system is requiring visitors to wear masks, undergo screening and practice social distancing. There’ll also be virtual check-ins and enhanced cleaning. 

Meanwhile, Republican legislators held press conferences throughout the state pushing for a regional reopening of the economy. Evers’ administration has said it doesn’t think the science supports a regional reopening at this point, although they’re open to the idea.

There were 314 new cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday, bringing the total to 9,215 confirmed cases. There were 12 additional deaths, increasing the total to 374.