Update: A Milwaukee County Bureaucrat’s Immoral Utilitarianism

I posted yesterday on the immoral and disordered policy of John Chianelli, Milwaukee County’s mental health director. Chianelli has implemented a plan to house female mental patients with male ones, with the supposed goal of trading the risk of male-on-male physical violence for male-on-female sexual assault. The policy of trading injury this way among mental health patients, rather than a commitment to reducing all violence, isn’t just immoral, but perversely so. See, A Milwaukee County Bureaucrat’s Immoral Utilitarianism.

Chianelli is unfit to serve in a position of such decision-making, and should be removed. Those who fail to remove him share in the responsibility — and deserved obloquy — of Chianelli’s policy. I am convinced that it would be impossible for a person of sound judgment to support any official who had the power to remove Chianelli and did not do so. Officials like this place others at risk, and disgrace Milwaukee, and Wisconsin, with a policy that’s fundamentally wrong. Those who endure an official like Chianelli, whose policy should be anathema to anyone of normal sense, without protesting disgrace themselves.

(It’s possible that there might be some position, without decision-making authority, and under careful supervision of others, where Chianelli might still work. It cannot be, soundly, in his present role. I would doubt that he should ever be given decision-making authority over others.)

Fortunately, three Milwaukee County supervisors now called for Chianelli’s ouster. In doing so, they have acted on behalf of institutionalized patients. They could be expected to do no less. See, Supervisors call for firing of county mental health chief.

Here’s more from the latest Journal Sentinel story:

Jon Gudeman, former medical director at the county’s psychiatric hospital, said Monday that the county immediately must set up a ward where patients who are aggressive can be held separately.

Problems scrutinized

Sexual assaults of patients, by patients, brought the issue of Chianelli’s job performance to the forefront. A federal report listed multiple instances of improper sexual contact among patients at the complex in 2009.

Supervisors also were critical of Chianelli’s failure to promptly notify supervisors of the assaults last year and a federal investigation in January. De Bruin also faulted Chianelli for failing to provide reports ordered by the County Board on how acute psychiatric patients are housed and for belatedly notifying the board late last year of a $3.6 million deficit in his division.

Unfortunately, but perhaps predictably,

Milwaukee county’s County Executive Scott Walker on Monday defended the county’s practice of combining male and female psychiatric patients in its locked wards. He said other public psychiatric hospitals in the state have mixed units, except the state’s Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison.

“Many experts believe this policy is good for treatment as clients prepare to return to the community,” Walker said in an e-mail. He said that policy would be reviewed “to ensure that it is best for the clients.”

Walker did not respond to the call for Chianelli’s replacement. Walker chief of staff Tom Nardelli, in a written response, said “potential disciplinary action” was under review. He said the County Board leadership had been kept fully informed on mental health issues.

The Mental Health Complex is the subject of several ongoing investigations. A comprehensive state and federal inspection is under way, and a county audit of issues surrounding the assaults started last week. Reports on those reviews aren’t expected for months. Disability Rights Wisconsin, the state-designated patient advocacy agency, is expected to issue preliminary findings of its investigation this month.

In addition, several state legislators are seeking a state audit of the complex.

Walker’s county has a facility with a rising number of sexual assaults, and yet he defends the practice of mixing male and female mental patients — including violent ones — as a way to “prepare [them] to return to the community.”

I would ask Walker what sort of community he has in mind. I can assure him it is not one in which a normal person would wish to live. I have sympathy for anyone who has to endure the imposition of this policy.

Walker’s response is both predictable and discouraging. To lead a state in troubled times, especially, he will require better judgment than he’s yet shown on this matter.