Walker Staff on the Mentally Ill: "No One Cares about Crazy People"

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (Photo by Gage Skidmore)-- by Seep Paliwal and Brendan Fischer

"We cannot as a country allow people with mental illness to be treated as second-class citizens any longer" -- Sen. Paul Wellstone

One of the more disturbing exchanges in recently-unsealed court documents shows callousness among Scott Walker's staff and campaign as they worked to deflect criticism over mismanagement in a county mental health facility.

Emails released this week show that in the months before the 2010 gubernatorial election, Walker, his campaign, and his Milwaukee County Executive staff coordinated regularly on their response to problems at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex. A 33-year-old woman dying of complications related to starvation while under the County's care, staff failing to prevent patient-on-patient sexual assaults (including one patient who became pregnant), and other controversies had made the facility a campaign issue.

"We need to continue to keep me out of the story as this is a process issue and not a policy matter," Walker wrote on March 27, 2010, about the sexual assaults.

In an email chain from April, Walker insists that a state legislator issue a statement describing a press conference about problems at the facility as a "political stunt." Walker himself drafts a statement to be issued by Sen. Alberta Darling, and in an apparent effort to sidestep open records laws, wrote: "we need to find a personal email for someone on her staff to get this language (or read it to them over the phone). It should NOT be emailed to her official account." (The Center for Media and Democracy successfully litigated this issue against legislators who tried to avoid disclosure by shifting their correspondence with the American Legislative Exchange Council to a personal account).

"Last week was a nightmare," Rindfleisch wrote in a September 2, 2010 email. "A bad story every day on our looney bin. Doctors having sex with patients, patients getting knocked up. This has been coming for months and I've unofficially been dealing with it. So, it's been crazy (pun intended)."

Woman Dies of Complications from Starvation in Hospital

Cindy Anczak, 33, died of complications related to starvation in 2006 while committed to the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex for treatment for her bipolar disorder. Anczak passed after losing 22 pounds during her five-week stay at the facility, according to the medical examiners report. Anczak's parents filed a legal complaint in October 2010.

Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker's Deputy Chief of Staff, forwarded the complaint to Walker and campaign staff at 2:21pm on a Friday, during the workday.

"It's not public," she wrote.

"Then we should not make it public," Walker replied.

Anczak, who had previously worked as a pharmacy technician, was admitted to the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex on July 10, 2006, after she was found incoherent and wandering through a cemetary. On July 25, a County doctor, Karl Strelnick, released her from the facility, despite noting that she was unresponsive, psychotic, and "did not seem to be able to process what to do with the pen" when asked to sign her discharge papers, according to discharge notes. "Anczak was so dazed that she had to be walked out of the hospital door and into the cab that the county called to have her taken away," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote. "She drove herself back to the complex that evening."

Ten days later, Anczak was dehydrated, psychotic, and wouldn't leave her bed. Strelnick testified in court that Anczak was a danger to herself, so that she could be treated with anti-psychotic medication against her will; hours later, Strelnick attempted to force Anczak's 79-year-old father to take her home, despite her parent's fears that she would jump from the vehicle. Anczak refused to get in the car. "That was the last time we saw her alive," her mother, Jean Anczak, told the Journal Sentinel.

Four days later, Anczak was found unconscious and gasping for air, and was transferred to Froedtert Hospital, where she died days later. She lost 22 pounds during her stay at the facility; experts say doctors should have obtained a court order to ensure she was fed. According to the autopsy, she died of a blood clot that was significantly caused by her starvation and dehydration.

"No One Cares about Crazy People"

Anczak's parents sent the County a legal complaint in October 2010 to initiate settlement negotiations. The family later said they didn't have the resources for a full-fledged lawsuit.

Rindfleisch received the complaint on her county email address, then forwarded it to her personal email, then to campaign staff -- and went on to discuss campaign strategy while being paid by taxpayers in her County Executive job.

"Totally coincidental to the election," replied Walker campaign advisor RJ Johnson, about the timing of the filing.

"Corp council [the County's attorney] wants to offer 50-100k," emailed Rindfleisch.

"Ok - any time after Nov. 2nd would be the time to offer a settlement," replied Keith Gilkes, who headed Walker's campaign.

"Barrett is going to make this the center of his campaign," Rindfleisch wrote in another email.

"yep and he is still going to lose because that is his base," replied Joan Hansen, a County official.

"Yep," Rindfleisch wrote. "No one cares about crazy people."

This article has been updated.


Walker Staff on ‘the’ Mentally Ill: "No One Cares about ‘Crazy People’ " No matter who refers to as as a generic "the" mentally ill, you err to repeat them, make it the prejudice in your writing, on your pages. "A bad story every day on our looney bin. “ No matter who references us with pejoratives, you err to repeat them, make it the prejudice in your writing, on your pages. Harold A. Maio, retired Mental Health Editor

<p>Dear Mr. Maio:</p> <p>Thank you for writing to express your concerns. We think this is an important story that the public has the right to know about and there is no way to tell fully convey what happened without quoting what Walker's staff said.</p> <p>As the inspiring Senator Paul Wellstone said:</p> <p>We must "help those with chronic mental illnesses, those with acute depression, anxiety, or PTSD resulting from the trauma of September 11, children with autism or eating disorders, and the millions of other Americans with mental illness. Without treatment, mental illness can worsen, and can even lead to death. We cannot as a country allow people with mental illness to be treated as second-class citizens any longer."</p> <p>And: "The basic scientific facts of mental illness are straightforward, but the difficulties encountered by those who want to eliminate the cruel and unjust stigma that surrounds diseases like schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder and others have been monumental. Mental illnesses represent a major portion of the disease burden in the United States and worldwide; depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and throughout the developed world. And yet, our efforts to reduce stigma and provide fair treatment for people with mental illness are still needed. Parity for mental health treatment is a civil rights issue, and the fight for the rights of those with mental illness will not be stopped."</p> <p>And: "It is difficult to believe . . . there is a whole class of citizens--probably well over 20 percent of the families in this country have a loved one who struggles with mental illness--certainly, all of us know someone who does--and they face discrimination. There still is a tremendous stigma attached to people who struggle with mental illness. . . .[It] does not know any political party boundaries. It does not know any economic boundaries."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>

This creature youall call Governor is not human. Whatever you must do to get this man committed to an institution that can help him, is what is needed. How could youall have elected him, TWICE? You need to re-evaluate your voting system. Either youall have been completely conned or the voting system has been compromised.