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Barbara Beckert

Advocating for the disabled

May. 29, 2013
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“We’re at a crossroads,” declares Disability Rights Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Office Director Barbara Beckert, referring to the damage cuts to government funding could have on individuals with disabilities and supportive services in general. Beckert, who was recently awarded an “In Search of Excellence Award” from the Wisconsin Family Based Services Association, also shares her thoughts on the impact of the Affordable Care Act, her hopes for its implementation and the need for a collaborative change at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex.


What are the most common reasons why individuals seek assistance from Disability Rights Wisconsin?

The most common concerns that people come to us with are [safety] concerns like neglect and abuse. Other areas that we get a lot of calls about are people having difficulty gaining access to services in the community that may help them maintain their independence. Another area would be discrimination. For example, advocating for students with disabilities in our school system.


How do you think the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will impact your mission?

I think the Affordable Care Act is a huge opportunity for people with disabilities, but it’s going to provide a lot of challenges. It’s going to depend on how we implement it here in Wisconsin. There is an opportunity here to expand Medicaid in a way that would provide comprehensive healthcare coverage to more people with disabilities than ever before. We’re still hoping that Wisconsin will use this opportunity to expand coverage for low-income people and will accept the federal funding that will provide coverage to adults with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level.


How do you feel about the changes at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex?

For Milwaukee County, I think a top priority needs to be ensuring safety and quality services. We’re still very concerned about the quality of care and safety at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex. We are encouraged that the county is committed to moving forward by increasing access to community services and downsizing at the complex, but it’s very important that the money saved from downsizing is used to expand community-based services and that the institutional services are downsized in a responsible manner.


Do you think these changes will be made responsibly?

We need all stakeholders to make a commitment to ensure that adequate funding is put in place to ensure that there is a good network of community services and support. We need a continuum of services. Without that, people are going to rely on crises services. Right now the county is the second busiest psychiatric emergency room in the country. Last year approximately 13,000 people went to the county’s psychiatric emergency room. This is an indication that we don’t have enough supportive services available. And it’s not just about the county taking ownership—it’s about a broader partnership with private hospitals, government-funded services, and other clinics and providers of services. Everybody needs to be part of the solution.


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