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Winnebago Mental Health Institute – Its History and Development

If we speak of a primary center for treatment of mental illness in Wisconsin, Winnebago Mental Health Institute or WMHI is the first facility that comes to mind. Located at Lake Winnebago’s west shore, this state facility has about 1300 admissions every year and an average of 250 patients.

The facility was constructed in 1871. Originally named Northern Asylum for the Insane, its name was later changed to Winnebago State Hospital before the name was again changed to Winnebago Mental Health Institute.

Basically, WMHI’s services can be grouped into three areas. The first one is called Adult Service 1, consisting of forensic units. The second area is called Adult Service 2, for adults that are multiply impaired, and those requiring treatment for behavior modification, substance abuse and mental illnesses. The third unit, Youth Services, is for children and adolescents that are multiply impaired and those who are mentally ill and have substance abuse disorder.

The Therapeutic Services Department is responsible in evaluating and assessing the patients. There are 4 divisions of service: occupational therapy, recreational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy. These divisions are responsible in the holistic approach to treatment.

There are various treatment activities in WMHI. One of them is individual psychotherapy. A treatment plan is outlined for each patient to determine the frequency of sessions that he must undergo. A clinical staff writes notes for each visit. The attending psychiatrist meets the treatment team on a regular basis to review the treatment plan.

Another treatment activity is through psychopharmacology. The attending psychiatrist determines and orders the medication according to the individual patient’s treatment plan. Psychotropic medication is used in order to achieve treatment goals and reduce risk of injury and violence.

Group therapy is another kind of treatment, where problems of each patient are shared and solutions are discussed. Other treatment activities include self-help groups, family therapy and community groups.

However, the facility is faced with controversy lately. City inspectors found violations of the hospital. Infractions include failure to protect patient’s rights such as the right to be protected from violent and sexual behaviors of other patients, to have privacy and to be in a safe environment. Other violations include medication errors and failure to correct environmental hazards and infection control in the facility.

Within a period of two years, three deaths and one rape case were reported. These, among other problems, have caused authorities to cite the facility for neglect and lack of attention. Reports indicate that poor supervision and staffing as well as bad judgment in medication caused these problems. Because of this, the government ordered the facility to correct the problems by 2008. Otherwise, it shall lose its federal funding for both Medicaid and Medicare.

With this development, lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill requiring all patient deaths in the facility be investigated. This is to create more transparency and accountability to the taxpayers.

More problems are at hand for WMHI. Hospital officials cite financial loss as the reason why there is not enough staff in the facility. Because of such financial losses, there are not enough employees to maintain hospital safety and provide better service to patients.

Despite these problems that the Winnebago Mental Health Institute has, hospital officials continue to work hard to give quality treatment to their patients.


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