By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Mary Neubauer has struggled with mental illness her whole life. As a baby, she was born with signs of alcoholism, and later she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Eventually as a young adult, Neubauer began receiving the medical treatment she needed and over time, she became an advocate for better mental health facilities. Neubauer has served on various committees and today she serves as the board secretary for the Milwaukee County Mental Health Board.
She shared her story during a press conference regarding the new Mental Health Emergency Center, 1525 N. 12th St., on Tuesday, Aug. 31. During the event, Neubauer along with elected officials signed a beam and celebrated the new facility, which is set to open in 2022.
“I know how critically important the impact of the voice and tone of providers are in recovery services,” Neubauer said. “They need to be delivered by staff that instill hope, kindness and compassion. Never shame, never racism and never blame.”
The new mental health facility has been a long time in the making. Bob Duncan explained that since 2010, health care providers, community residents, advocates and more have been developing a plan to redesign and improve mental health services in Milwaukee County.
Duncan is president of Children’s Community Health Plan and executive vice president of Children’s Wisconsin.
The center is a joint venture among Milwaukee County, Advocate Aurora Health, Ascension Wisconsin, Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert Health.
“We all know that the need for mental health services is at an unprecedented level,” Duncan said. “In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health tells us that about 1 in 5 individuals in the U.S. will experience mental health in their lifetime.”
Mental health services have continually been identified as one of top needs for the community, he said. The new facility will offer services to children, youth and adults experiencing a mental health crisis.
He noted that the facility’s location was chosen because about 93% of the individuals the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division serves come from the City of Milwaukee and about 70% live near or around the new facility. At the moment, these individuals receive treatment at a facility in Wauwatosa.
The new location is located on a bus line and is near the highway, he said.
“The center is designed to best serve those in need of emergency services with a focus on health equity,” he said.
County Executive David Crowley noted that prior to the pandemic there were unacceptable health disparities in Milwaukee and across the state. If Milwaukee achieves racial equity, it can be the healthiest county in Wisconsin, he said, and this project is a step in the right direction.
“The new Mental Health Emergency Center is a significant milestone in this work,” he said. “It will serve to bring mental health care resources to parts of our community that have traditionally been underserved or excluded.”
He continued, “Often, one of the largest barriers to receiving support is knowing where to go for help, which is why providing a center that offers easily accessible mental health specific services right here in our community is so important.”
Maria Perez, the chairwoman for Milwaukee County Mental Health Board, said the new facility symbolizes what can happen with intentionality and partnership. She said that when community members walk through the doors, they will feel embraced and cared for in their time of need.
Sen. LaTonya Johnson (District 6) stressed the importance of having a safe place for children to receive services.
“A child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health,” she said. “It helps them to grow up to be well-rounded individuals capable of taking anything that life throws at them and living here in Milwaukee, sometimes life throws a lot.”
Mayor Tom Barrett, Gov. Tony Evers, Rep. Kalan Haywood II, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Pete Carlson, an advocate for Aurora Health, Common Council President Cavalier Johnson and Dameon Ellzey, Ald. Russell Stamper’s assistant, also spoke during the press conference.
“It’s no secret that easy access to mental health service is essential to everybody’s well-being,” Evers said, adding that the Department of Health Services will be committing $5.7 million to the project.
Location is a key component in real estate and in public service, Haywood said. The center’s location is the definition of meeting people where they are, he said.
“Our entire community is impacted by the need for these services,” he said, adding, “Let’s continue to figure out ways we can bridge gaps and bridge the divide between the services we offer as government officials, nonprofit leaders, CEOs, business leaders. How do we bridge the divide and get those services to the people? And remember, always bring it to the people.”