By Edgar Mendez, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service   Published Dec 07, 2019 at 12:01 PM

Twenty-five years ago, when Julie Schuller began her career at the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, the South Side nonprofit ran just one clinic and had about 10 doctors.

"We were pretty small then," said Schuller, who served various roles at the organization before becoming president and CEO in 2017.

That’s not the case anymore. Sixteenth Street recently announced that it will be opening an eighth clinic, to be located in the former Badger Mutual building at 1635 W. National Ave. in Clarke Square. The new clinic will focus on providing same-day access to a variety of community-based behavioral and mental health services. It is scheduled to open in late 2020 and will serve at least 1,000 additional patients, Schuller said.

The clinic is being funded through a $3.7 million donation from Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin health network. Through a partnership between the nonprofit and Milwaukee County, which also will provide services there, Sixteenth Street will own the 32,000 square foot building while the county will rent 5,000 square feet of space.

Both entities will provide walk-in services, including early intervention, substance use services, case management and other behavioral and mental health services, Schuller said. Another benefit, she said, will be that patients can work with care coordinators and receive peer services from someone who has experienced or experiences a mental illness.

"They can walk side by side with a person who is currently dealing with similar problems, and who is bilingual and better understands their culture," Schuller said.

The goal is to help meet a significant increase in the demand for behavioral and mental health services over the past five to 10 years, she added. Last year, she said, Sixteenth Street served 40,000 clients and had over 150,000 visits, but it still had difficulty meeting the needs of those seeking help.

"People are more aware of mental illness, and there is also more acceptance of it. That has led to more demand and need for mental health services," Schuller said.

Access to healthcare, mental health and substance abuse services were three of the top five health concerns facing the community, according the 2018-2019 Milwaukee County Community Health Needs Assessment.

Serving the community

In the past, many in the county received mental health services at the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division complex on Watertown Plank Road. But several years ago, there was a push toward community-based mental healthcare, said Michael Lappen, behavioral health administrator for Milwaukee County.

"We wanted to provide access closer to where people live," Lappen said.

The latest partnership is one way to make that happen, said Mary Jo Meyers, director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services.

"Our partnership with Sixteenth Street is a critical part of Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to increase early intervention services and create an equitable and responsive system of care in Milwaukee County that is accessible to all of our communities," Meyers said.

Originally, the Behavioral Health Division considered opening county access hubs in Milwaukee’s Central City, but after discussions with the community and other stakeholders, leaders learned that people wanted care from places they were more familiar with and that the trusted, Lappen said.

"Sixteenth Street clinics are well established in the community and it’s a trusted place," he said.

The latest news follows a late October announcement of another clinic, which also will be located in Clarke Square. It also will be funded through a multimillion dollar investment from Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin health network. That clinic, located at 1135 S. Cesar Chavez Drive, will provide community-based primary care, dental hygiene and pharmacy services and also is expected to open in 2020.