MCW, Milwaukee County could partner on new forensic science center

The Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex at the Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa.

The Medical College of Wisconsin is in talks with Milwaukee County officials about a plan to build a new forensic science facility on the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center campus in Wauwatosa that would house the Medical Examiner’s Office, the county’s emergency management office and academic partners.

The Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex at the Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa.

The plan, which is included in Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s recommended 2019 budget, would involve moving the Medical Examiner’s office and the Office of Emergency Management to a new building constructed by MCW on the site currently occupied by the Mental Health Complex on the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center campus. 

The county is considering the sale of two buildings in the Mental Health Complex — the former Children’s Adolescent Treatment Center at 9501 W. Watertown Plank Road, and the Day Hospital at 9201 W. Watertown Plank Road — to members of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center campus. Both buildings are currently vacant. 

The sale would create developable land for the proposed new building and accommodate infrastructure improvements for the county’s planned East/West Bus Rapid Transit line, according to budget documents.

According to the budget proposal, MCW could develop the proposed Center for Forensic Science and Protective Medicine on the site of the former Day Hospital.

John Raymond, president and chief executive officer of MCW, said the college has been in discussions with county officials about the possible forensic science center for the past 18 months. 

A map of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Campus (MRMC) and land currently occupied by the Behavioral Health Division (BHD).

“MCW is committed to improving the determinants of health and we understand the value of reinvesting in our community,” Raymond said in a statement Tuesday. “The proposed Forensics and Protective Medicine Center would leverage the unique synergies generated by academic medicine, government and the private sector partnering together to expand opportunities and improve the health and safety of our communities through collaboration, education, research, new academic programs and patient care expertise.”

He said the new center would build on MCW’s established relationship with the Medical Examiner’s Office.

“… the Center would provide opportunities for enhancing existing academic programs, addressing the shortage of forensic pathologists by increasing the number of pathology residents and fellows that we train, and creating new forensic research grant opportunities,” he said. 

Raymond added that it would be a “natural progression” of MCW’s Comprehensive Injury Center, which leads efforts related to injury-related research, education and community outreach.

Under the recommended budget proposal, the new building would be constructed by the Medical College, and the county would be responsible for interior improvements related to the Medical Examiner and emergency management offices. County officials are considering several options that could involve owning or leasing the facility, a spokeswoman said.

The Medical Examiner’s office at 933 W. Highland Ave. is located between the county jail and the former Pabst Brewery complex. The building is 87 years old and once belonged to the old St. Anthony’s Hospital, which shut down in 1988. It was renovated to accommodate the Medical Examiner’s office, but the space is inadequate for current and future programs and doesn’t meet industry standards, according to county officials.

The cost of construction related to outfitting the interior space of the center and relocating operations is $23.8 million, according to the budget proposal. The county would need about 94,000 square feet for their facilities, a spokeswoman said.

The behavioral health building at 9455 W. Watertown Plank Road on the Mental Health Complex, which is located between the former Children’s Adolescent Treatment Center and Day Hospital, remains occupied. However, its inpatient services will be moved off the campus in the summer of 2021, when Universal Health Services builds a new 120-bed acute-care psychiatric hospital at an undetermined site in the county.

According to the proposed budget documents, MRMC members would own and be responsible for the Day Hospital and Children’s Adolescent Treatment Center buildings under the sale. The county would remain responsible for the behavioral health building until the county decommissions and vacates the building, at which point MRMC members could develop the site. 

The new building would require budget approval by the county board, along with approvals from MCW faculty leadership and board committee members. It could be considered by the MCW board in the first quarter of 2019, Raymond said.

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