Winnebago Mental Health Institute received yet another reprieve from the federal government, but the fate of its patients is unclear. The facility is the destination for many people with serious mental illness from Dane County and throughout the state.

Conditions are so dire that the federal agency responsible for Medicare threatened to withhold funds if significant reforms were not made by July. The new date is Oct. 1.

Violations cited include improper patient care, inadequate nursing staff, and poor oversight of medical staff. The government called the deficiencies "significant." Key positions are unfilled, resulting in costly overtime, and a demoralized staff.

Change must come at Winnebago. But this is also an opportunity for more significant reform. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation last session to provide state grants to hospitals for regional mental health crisis centers. The bill addresses many problems: the long ride to Oshkosh for people in crisis, the cost to police and county governments, and the separation of patients from families. It had the support of statewide criminal justice organizations, county governments and the League of Women Voters.

Tell candidates to support this legislation in November.

Katie Mulligan, Madison

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