Milwaukee County’s Immoral Utilitarianism: Update 4 (Documentation of Patient Abuse)

I’ve written before about Milwaukee County’s Behavioral Health Division, and sexual assaults among mental patients at its Mental Health Center. BHD’s Director, John Chianelli, has implemented a policy of trading male-on-male violence among mental patients for male-on-female sexual assault. I’ve posted about Chianelli’s policy, and the tragedy that is conduct at the MHC, before. See, A Milwaukee County Bureaucrat’s Immoral Utilitarianism, Update: A Milwaukee County Bureaucrat’s Immoral Utilitarianism, Update 2, and Update 3.

The Journal Sentinel has been covering this story closely and well, and reporters Steve Schiltze and Meg Kissinger have posted a story entitled, Advocacy group’s report slams Mental Health Complex.

(The report of Disability Rights Wisconsin and a reply from Milwaukee County are both available online, at the Journal Sentinel website.)

Here are some key findings of Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW)’s report:

Patients at Milwaukee County’s Mental Health Complex are not kept safe from sexual predators, and comments by administrators and staff claiming otherwise reveal a disturbing indifference, says a watchdog group that has reviewed patient files.

Of 17 patients whose records were reviewed, 10 had improper sexual contact with other patients and five were sexually assaulted at the complex during the last half of 2009, according to a blistering report compiled by Disability Rights Wisconsin.

The advocacy group rushed early findings to print because of concerns over patient safety at the complex. A more detailed report from the group is expected this summer.

As the state’s designated watchdog group for patients, Disability Rights Wisconsin has authority to scrutinize confidential patient files and interview patients and staff of the complex….

The hospital has a policy of no physical contact among patients, but that policy is frequently violated and many staff members were unaware it existed, the group’s investigators found….

Staff, including top administrators, did not seem alarmed at the amount of inappropriate sexual contact, she said.

“What we saw is very disturbing,” Beckert said. “Yet, it is being treated as though these were not grave concerns. If it’s not grave, then that’s really disturbing. Where is the outrage?”

When assaults and abuse like this are uncovered, elected and appointed officials have two broad options: a comprehensive review of what’s gone bad, or an easily-controlled, manipulated review, followed by a lot of hesitation and the urging of caution, etc.

Here’s the chairman of the Milwaukee County Board, though a spokesperson(!):

County Board Chairman Lee Holloway said through a spokesman that the Disability Rights report was premature. Holloway feels that Disability Rights has a pro-patient bias that could shade its findings, said spokesman Harold Mester. An audit on the Mental Health Complex being done by the county auditor should be more objective, Mester said.

Holloway’s kidding only himself if he thinks that a county review of allegations against the county will be credible. The allegations against the county include concealment of information, but now Holloway expects people to believe that employees of the same county will be forthcoming.

Chianelli needs to go, but beyond that, Milwaukee County needs to accept an independent, state audit. (It’s something that State Rep. Tamara Grigsby has called for; she’s right.) She’s quoted as observing that “[w]e entrusted the county to provide these services, and it is absolutely clear that the county has not done that in a way that has been acceptable.”

I would encourage readers to review both the DRW reports and Milwaukee County’s reply. The report has over a dozen solid recommendations to remedy misconduct of county workers and mistreatment of county mental patients.

One need only compare the report (itself preliminary to a more exhaustive one) with the paltry reply of Milwaukee County. The thin Milwaukee County reply makes only general claims of improvement “over the last several months.”

None of it is specific and quantified; someone without any professional training could have produced as much in reply to the DRW report. Much of the county’s reply involves what they’re “working on,” or “additional training,” etc. It’s the kind of weak and flimsy response that reasonable people have come to expect from middling, excuse-making officials.

One finds these kinds of tissue-paper excuses for problems in my own, small town, too. There’s no learning from mistakes when those in authority have no obligation to true accountability. They use the words, and apply them to everyone except themselves. Milwaukee County’s will have no more traction, outside of a small, addled group of lemmings and magpies, than similar ones do in my own town.

A small circle will insist that all is well, while far more people see the truth of conditions, and ignore happy talk and false claims. (Many of the people in a small circle like this don’t even, truly, believe the claims of others in the group. They just like being insiders more than they care about being principled, so they defend or ignore misconduct.)

Holloway’s out of his depth; he can’t talk or wish these problems away. No amount of excuses, risible counter-accusations, or efforts to pretend it’s all business as usual will help these patients, or even make this issue go away. A spokesman won’t insulate Holloway from ridicule and contempt; on the contrary, using one only undermines the shoddy argument he’s trying to make.

Garden-variety blame shifting and wagon-circling won’t be enough.

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