Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit Pine Valley Integrated Services in Juneau County, where health care professionals work with patients suffering from addiction or diagnosed with other mental health issues. The work they do goes beyond basic treatment. They work to enroll patients in insurance plans and develop wraparound support for those facing food and housing insecurity. Their work requires them to collaborate with law enforcement and other government and community agencies.

We are facing a crisis here in Wisconsin. Deaths from opioid overdoses are increasing faster than the national average. Much of our state is rural, making mental health and substance abuse treatment significantly harder for those living far away from treatment centers. Mental health spending in Wisconsin ranks near the bottom nationally. Scott Walker turned down federal Medicaid dollars that would go towards treatment, putting his Republican presidential primary ambitions over the needs of those suffering opioid addictions.

Wisconsin needs a new approach to treating addiction and mental illness.

As governor, my agenda will be to add more integrated mental health services that incorporate a wide range of treatment options for people suffering from behavioral health disorders. To treat patients effectively, providers must rely on many options to create the best treatment approach for each individual patient. There is not a single form of treatment that works for everyone. Facilities with multiple options allow collaboration to create a plan that works for each patient without needing to access treatment from multiple locations. This creates the consistency of care that patients and providers need.

I will accept all federal health care funds and will add additional spending for mental health treatment. On top of that, I will push for more funding for our UW System. The research and health care training they do is invaluable to us. Our state universities are training the next generation of health care and mental health providers.

We also need to improve access to physical treatment options and encourage greater investment in telemedicine. New communication technologies allow patients and social workers to speak with medical professionals remotely, allowing them access to specialists they would otherwise have to travel to see. This way patients can get the care they need without the often-impossible task of moving to a treatment center.

Finally, we must recognize that people suffering from addiction do not belong behind bars. It is a terrible waste of resources. Not only does it cost more to keep a person locked in jail than in a treatment center, it ignores the fundamental problem of addiction. As governor, I will push for more treatment options for non-violent drug offenders, as opposed to incarceration.

Improving mental health will require more than our politicians paying lip service to the issue. It requires the focus of lawmakers to provide real funding and real policy changes. It’s time to hold the governor accountable for the state of mental health care in Wisconsin. It’s time to move forward again.