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Client Rights: How the Complaint Process Works

If you receive services for mental health, substance use, or a developmental disability and have a complaint, you have the right to file a grievance.

Download the sample client rights formal grievance form

You have that right if you are:

  • Voluntarily or involuntarily receiving services.
  • Receiving services directed by a court.
  • Having your care paid for by a state or county agency.
  • In a community treatment program.
  • In a hospital, residential, or state-run facility.
  • Paying for your care through your own insurance.

You cannot file a client rights complaint if you receive services:

  • From a clinic that is staffed by one person.
  • From an emergency room.

Learn about your rights at a:

Four levels of the complaint process

There are four levels to Wisconsin’s grievance procedure.

Level 1: Filing a complaint

To start, write down your complaint. Be as clear as you can about what happened, those involved, and what documents might exist related to the incident. If you cannot write, a client rights staff member can write your complaint for you. You can use this sample form (PDF), but the form is not necessary to file a grievance.

Then, address your complaint to the client rights staff where you are receiving treatment. The client right staff will work with you and answer your questions.

There is generally a 45-day time limit from the time of the incident to file a grievance. But extensions are possible depending on the situation.

The client rights staff may ask you some questions about your complaint. Then, the client rights staff must investigate and write a report within 30 days of your filing. The report will contain the facts and their opinion on whether a right has been violated. It will also contain recommendations for resolving the complaint. If you don’t receive a report in 30 days, contact the client rights staff where you are receiving treatment. If you get no response, contact us.

Client rights staff is required to give the report to you, any involved staff members, and the program manager. The recommendations are carried out if everyone who receives the report agrees with its findings.

If you are not happy with the result, you have 14 days to let the service provider or facility know. Client rights staff will tell you how to appeal the decision.

Level 2: Appealing the response

Your appeal should state what you disagree with in the result. The program manager and the client rights staff will try to resolve the issue. If it cannot be resolved, the program manager must write a formal position for the service provider or facility. You must receive a written response from the program manager within 10 days.

Level 3: Appealing to the Client Rights Office

If you are not happy with that response, you have 14 days to appeal. You can appeal to your county health and human services department if the county is paying for your services. You can also appeal to the Client Rights Office. It may take 30 to 90 days to resolve your appeal.

Level 4: Appealing to the Division of Care and Treatment Services

If you are not happy with the response from the Client Rights Office, you can appeal within 14 days. That appeal is to the administrator of the Division of Care and Treatment Services.

Learn more in Wis. Stat. § 51.61 and Wis. Admin. Code ch. 94 about how the grievance procedure works.

Emergency situations

If a person receiving services is at risk of physical or emotional harm, it is considered an emergency. In these cases, the time frames for conducting investigations and making decisions are shorter.

Other complaints

Depending on the complaint, an organization other than the service provider or facility may be able to help.

Last revised July 2, 2022