Cross-sector Partners Address the Mental Health Needs of Milwaukee County Youth

In December 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a rare public health advisory on youth mental health, elevating alarming rates of mental health issues coupled with limited access to mental health care for youth. Recognizing the urgency to fill service gaps and create a more effective mental health care delivery system for young people – the members of the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership (MHCP) convened the Youth Behavioral Health Care Delivery Redesign Committee (YBH Committee).

Initially funded through a grant from the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha Counties – MacKenzie Scott Foundation, the YBH Committee was formed in 2022 to ensure focused attention to the unique mental and behavioral health care needs of youth and families. The committee includes expert representatives from state, county, and city youth-serving agencies and Milwaukee health systems, health centers and  community organizations. The goal is to improve access to and coordination of mental health care services for youth of all ages, with an immediate focus on kids in crisis.

“The increasing rates of youth mental health challenges and growing demand for services coupled with youth mental health workforce shortages have created an even greater need to work together to build capacity, address service gaps and help residents and their providers navigate the fragmented care delivery system,” said Leanne Delsart, Integrated Services Manager of Strategic Initiatives at Milwaukee County Children’s Community Mental Health Services and Wraparound Milwaukee.

To date, the committee has worked to understand and monitor the current state of the youth mental health care continuum across Milwaukee County as well as collectively identify and address service gaps. This includes increasing urgent mental health care access, supporting the development of youth psychiatric services at the Mental Health Emergency Center, working to expand the use of crisis stabilization facilities for adolescent boys and girls, and creating a forum to address the needs of youth with complex needs involved in the child welfare system.

“We’ve found particular success in improving cross-sector relationships and communication, which is essential for caring for complex youth and families who receive services via many different health care and social services agencies and programs,” said Amanda Quesnell, Director, Acute Care Mental and Behavioral Health at Children’s Wisconsin. “We have also worked hard to reduce barriers to timely care transfers between ERs, the Mental Health Emergency Center, county-run services, residential programs and inpatient and outpatient clinics for this complex population. There is more to do, but we have the structure and conviction to improve the care delivery system.”

Complex youth populations require support and coordination across multiple health care, courts and social service organizations. Markers of success in this work include reducing the length of stay in emergency rooms for youth experiencing a mental health crisis, more robust care and support plans for youth and families post-discharge home after a crisis, reduced recidivism to the emergency room and reduced readmissions to inpatient settings.

The YBH Committee meets quarterly and simultaneously implements monthly briefings, subgroups and offline work to move initiatives forward.