Marquette University News Release

Marquette College of Communication to host conference focusing on Milwaukee County’s troubled mental health system

October 7, 2013

County executive among those expected to participate in solutions-based discussion

The J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication will host a community discussion on how to better care for those with mental illness. The event, “Milwaukee County’s Mental Health: Solutions to a Chronic Crisis,” will take place Friday, Oct. 11, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at Marquette University.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele will participate in a roundtable discussion – “No Excuses: Who Can Do Something About This?” – set for 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Johnston Hall, 1131 W. Wisconsin Ave., on Marquette’s campus. Abele will be joined by Judge Jane Carroll, who presides over many cases involving mental illness; Mary Neubauer, co-chairwoman, Milwaukee Mental Health Task Force; Thomas Reed, first assistant Wisconsin state public defender; Ryan Spellecy, associate professor, Medical College of Wisconsin; and Brenda Wesley, outreach coordinator, National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The roundtable highlights the inaugural O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism Conference. It will center on the ongoing Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series, “Chronic Crisis: A System That Doesn’t Heal.” During the 2012-13 academic year, Meg Kissinger, an award-winning journalist at the newspaper, spent a year reporting on Milwaukee County’s mental health system. Related work by Marquette faculty and students is presented along with Kissinger’s on the newspaper’s website.

“Chronic Crisis” demonstrates that mental health care in Milwaukee County focuses less on continual care and more on emergency treatment than anywhere else in the nation. Abele has proposed that the county should increase its spending on related community alternatives by nearly $5 million next year.

Prior to the roundtable, Kissinger will review her coverage of mental health care in the county and nation dating to 2000, in a session titled “Chronic Crisis: What Brought Us Here Today.” She will then take part in a public discussion, “Getting Personal: One Mother’s Struggle,” with Debbie Sweeney, the Milwaukee County resident whose efforts to seek care for her mentally ill son became part of the “Chronic Crisis” coverage in August. These events will take place at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m., respectively, in the Beaumier Suites of Raynor Memorial Libraries on Marquette’s campus.

The Perry and Alicia O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism is part of Marquette’s efforts to extend solutions journalism, which advocates describe as reporting that investigates responses to and provides valuable insights about social issues, said Dr. Lori Bergen, dean of the Diederich College. A Minneapolis couple, Peter and Patricia Frechette, made the fellowship possible by donating $8.3 million this year to the college in honor of Patricia’s parents, both of whom graduated from the university.

The fellowship will allow three accomplished journalists to reside within the Diederich College each academic year. The inaugural class of O’Brien fellows includes Hal Bernton of The Seattle Times, Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Lillian Thomas of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. They began their fellowships on Aug. 19 – with each researching and producing an in-depth public service journalism project on campus and working with Marquette students, giving them first-hand journalism experience.

“As a Diederich Fellow last year, Meg showed how having top-notch journalists spending their time at Marquette to focus on important concerns can make a difference,” Bergen said. “It’s also a wonderful way for journalists to collaborate with faculty and others across campus with expertise in their topic areas.”

Bernton, a reporter, is delving into the politics, economics and science of energy; Egan, also a reporter, is exploring the biology, science and logistics of preserving freshwater systems; and Thomas, an assistant managing editor for projects, is examining nonprofit health care, the dean said. Graduate and undergraduate students are working with each of the fellows this fall. Their activities range from interviewing sources to shooting and editing audio and video to data mining and other reportorial tasks.

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About Brian Dorrington

Brian Dorrington

Brian is the senior director of university communication in the Office of Marketing and Communication. Contact Brian at (414) 288-4719 or View all posts by .