Waukesha County mental health dispatch program takes step forward

Waukesha County is trying to get mental health resources out the door faster. One possibility would be immediately dispatching a clinical therapist on 911 calls.

In November, the sheriff's department launched a pilot program. A clinical therapist worked their entire shift side by side with law enforcement. The therapist even got a police radio and could head out to calls immediately.

"Last year, we had shy of 800 mental health calls. The projections this year will be more than that," Sheriff Eric Severson said.

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The sheriff said the program is working, and it set to expand. Thursday afternoon, the county's Health and Human Services committee voted to add more therapists. It would add another to the sheriff's department and embedded others with Waukesha police and the county communications center

"My deputies really embraced the concept. They recognize their time is better spent doing law enforcement work they trained to do," said Severson. "They appreciate mental health professionals are here to do the mental health work."

Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson

The three positions will cost just under $500,000 for the rest of 2022 and all of 2023. Waukesha County will pay for the therapists using a portion of its $78 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

"Over the last two years, coming through the COVID pandemic – we’ve seen mental health issues exacerbated," said County Executive Paul Farrow.

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The committee also approved $1.3 million to cover 10 new positions devoted to youth mental health. Farrow said it effectively doubles the number of kids they can refer for help from 75 to 150.

"As kids were spending more time away from their friends and sequestered at home – there were challenges building up," he said.

Waukesha County Sheriff's Department

The sheriff's department said the program means, if you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, you could get professional help in minutes instead of hours.

The proposals were approved at committee Thursday. The full Waukesha County Board will vote on the matter July 26.