Clients Rights - Complaint Process

If you have a complaint or concern about services received for mental illness, developmental disability, or substance use, you have the right to file a grievance.

Community Services

Am I covered under client rights?

Patient rights apply to any individual who is receiving services for developmental disability, mental illness, or substance use. These rights cover people who are voluntary patients, involuntary patients, forensic patients, people who are in community treatment programs, people who are in hospitals or residential facilities, people who are private pay, meaning their own insurance is paying for their care, or people whose care is being paid for by a state or county agency. Emergency room services and services from clinics that are staffed by one person are not covered by patient rights. Patient rights come from Wis. Stat. § 51.61 and Wis. Admin. Code ch. DHS 94. (Exception: Emergency room services)

A guardian, parent, or concerned friend may file a grievance on behalf of a person receiving services.

Any retaliation for complaining is prohibited and a violation of the patient’s rights.

If you receive services from an individual private practitioner (a one person agency), then client rights apply to you, but you cannot use the client rights grievance procedure to pursue resolution to your complaints. You may file complaints with a court of law at any time and other avenues of relief may also be available. Please refer to the section below titled "What if I have other complaints."

What are my patient rights?

Treatment providers are required to provide all new patients with a pamphlet outlining their patient rights at the start of their treatment.

  • Treatment rights include the right to prompt and adequate treatment in the least restrictive environment, the right to not be unduly subjected to seclusion or restraints, and the right to give informed consent for treatment and medication.
  • Communication rights include the ability to meet with visitors and the right to receive and send sealed mail, as well as access to a telephone to make and receive private calls.
  • Personal rights include the right to be treated in a humane environment, the right to be treated with respect and dignity and the right to personal choice regarding religious worship.
  • Rights relating to privacy include confidentiality and access to one’s own records.
  • Financial rights include being informed of any charges for treatment, being compensated for one’s labor, and the right to manage one’s own money.

How do I file a complaint?

Put it in writing! If you cannot write it, the Client Rights Specialist at your treatment provider can write your grievances down for you. No form is necessary.  (You may use this sample form to assist in filing a complaint.)

If you receive services from an individual private practitioner (a one person agency), then client rights apply to you, but you cannot use the client rights grievance procedure to pursue resolution to your complaints. You may file complaints with a court of law at any time and other avenues of relief may also be available. Please refer to the section below titled "What if I have other complaints."

Complaints are what kick-starts the grievance procedure. The grievance procedure is a way for an individual to complain about what he or she believes may have been a violation of their patient rights. Providers are required to have a grievance procedure that is written down and available for clients to file a complaint against a program or facility. There must be an informal and a formal way to resolved grievances.Wis. Stat. § 51.61 and Wis. Admin. Code ch. 94 describe exactly how the grievance procedure should proceed.

Where do I send my complaint?

Address it to the Client Rights staff or the Client Rights Specialist at your treatment provider. The person with the grievance can tell any staff member of the program or facility that he or she wants to file a grievance. The staff member will provide the person the program’s or facility's grievance form or contact the program’s Client Rights Specialist to help the person. Alternatively, the person can write out the grievance and give it to a staff member or the Client Rights Specialist. It will help with the investigation of the grievance if the person is fairly clear about what happened, who was involved, what documents exist regarding the incident and so forth.

The law requires all service providers/facilities to have a Client Rights Specialist to work with patients who file grievances. It is the job of the Client Rights Specialist to meet with the consumer to assist with filing a grievance.

When do I need to send the complaint?

Generally, there is a 45-day time limit to file a grievance, but you can request an extension for good cause.

What will happen then?

You may be asked some questions by the Client Rights staff. A Client Rights Specialist (CRS) will investigate the grievance and write a report within 30 days of receiving the grievance. This report must state his/her understanding of the facts, a finding of whether a patient rights violation occurred, and if so, recommendations for resolving the grievance. This report must be given to you, the grievant, if other than the consumer, involved staff members, and the manager of the program. If everyone agrees with the report, then any recommendations made by the CRS are to be put into effect. If there is disagreement, the manager and CRS will try to resolve the issues with the parties. If this is not possible, the manager must prepare a written decision, which will be the official position of the service provider/facility. He or she must do this within 10 days of receiving the report from the CRS.

What if I don't hear back from them?

If you don’t hear from the service provider/facility in 30 days, contact them. Or, you can contact the Client Rights Office.

How can I appeal if I'm not happy with the outcome?

You should tell the service provider/facility within 14 days of receiving the response that you are not happy with it—let them know specifically what you disagree with. The service provider/facility will tell you how to appeal the decision. There are four levels to Wisconsin’s grievance procedure. This means that if you feel that your grievance wasn’t resolved to your satisfaction at the first level, you may take it to the next level.

Can I get the Client Rights Office involved now?

The Client Rights Office (CRO) is like a “Court of Appeals”—third level in a four-stage process. CRO won’t get involved until the grievance is appealed OR your grievance is about the grievance process itself (for example, if the provider does not reply to you on time).

What does the four-tier process look like?

When a client rights grievance is filed, the Client Rights Specialist must provide a written response to you within 30 days.

  • If you are not happy with that response, you may appeal it within 14 days to the provider’s program manager. The program manager (or designated responder) must give you a written response within 10 days.
  • If you are not happy with that response, you may appeal your concerns within 14 days, either to the county, (if the county is contracted to provide your services or pays for your services), or directly to the State Grievance Examiner in the Client Rights Office, if the county is not involved. The State Grievance Examiner will provide you with a response within 30-90 days.
  • If you are unhappy with that response, you may appeal within 14 days to the final level, the administrator of the Division of Care and Treatment Services.

What happens if my situation is an emergency?

State law defines an emergency as a situation where there is reasonable cause to believe that a client(s) is at significant risk of physical or emotional harm due to circumstances identified in the grievance. In this case, all the time frames for conducting investigations and making decisions are significantly shortened.

What if I have other complaints?

Who is my provider?

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services maintains a database of all licensed treatment providers in the state.

State Center/Facility

Am I covered under client rights?

If you are receiving services for mental illness, developmental disabilities, or substance use at a state-run center or facility, you have client rights.

What are my patient rights?

You should have received a rights pamphlet when treatment started.

  • Treatment rights include the right to prompt and adequate treatment in the least restrictive environment, the right to not be unduly subjected to seclusion or restraints, and the right to give informed consent for treatment and medication.
  • Communication rights include the ability to meet with visitors and the right to receive and send sealed mail, as well as access to a telephone to make and receive private calls.
  • Personal rights include the right to be treated in a humane environment, the right to be treated with respect and dignity and the right to personal choice regarding religious worship.
  • Rights relating to privacy include confidentiality and access to one’s own records.
  • Financial rights include being informed of any charges for treatment, being compensated for one’s labor, and the right to manage one’s own money.

How do I file a complaint?

Put it in writing! If you cannot write it, the Client Rights Facilitator can write your grievances down for you.

Where do I send my complaint?

Address it to the Client Rights Facilitator.

When do I need to send the complaint?

Generally, there is a 45-day time limit to file a grievance, but you can request an extension for good cause.

What will happen then?

You may be asked some questions by the Client Rights staff. You should get a written reply in 30 days.

What if I don't hear back from them?

If you don’t hear from the facility or center in 30 days, contact them. Or, you can contact the Client Rights Office.

How can I appeal if I'm not happy with the outcome?

The facility or center will tell you how to appeal if you do not like their response.

Can I get the Client Rights Office involved now?

The Client Rights Office (CRO) is like a “Court of Appeals”—third level in a four-stage process. CRO won’t get involved until the grievance is appealed OR your grievance is about the grievance process itself (for example, if the facility or center does not reply to you on time).

What does the four-tier process look like?

When a client rights grievance is filed, the Client Rights Specialist must provide a written response to you within 30 days.

  • When a client rights grievance is filed, the Client Rights Facilitator must provide a written response to you within 30 days.
  • If you are not happy with that response, you may appeal it within 14 days to the facility or center director. The director (or designated responder) must give you a written response within 10 days.
  • If you are not happy with that response, you may appeal your concerns within 14 days, either to the county, if the county is involved in your services, or directly to the State Client Rights Specialist in the Client Rights Office, if the county is not involved. The State Client Rights Specialist will provide you with a response within 30-90 days.
  • If you are unhappy with that response, you may appeal within 14 days to the final level, the administrator of the Division of Care and Treatment Services.

What if I have other complaints?

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Last Revised: September 13, 2016