Client Rights Office

The Client Rights Office serves individuals receiving services for developmental disability, mental health, and substance use.  Individuals can receive these services in group homes, community-based residential facilities, adult family homes, inpatient and outpatient clinics, and similar settings, as well as state run facilities, such as the centers for the developmentally disabled, mental health institutes, and Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center. Inmates, emergency room patients, and single-person provider clinic patients are not served by the Client Rights Office.

Duties of the Office

The work of the Client Rights Office covers five key areas.

Promotion of Client Rights

Client Rights Office staff monitor changes in client rights laws and rules and, where appropriate, recommend changes for the benefit of all individuals served by the office.

Consultation on Client Rights

Client Rights Office staff provide consultation on many topics and questions concerning client rights from individuals receiving services, their families, advocates, service providers, county staff, policy makers, and other interested parties. 

Community Provider Grievance Process

The State Grievance Examiner is a member of the Client Rights Office staff and conducts reviews of grievances from individuals dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaint about services provided in the community. The State Grievance Examiner also may review any complaints about the community grievance procedure itself.

State Facility Grievance Process

Client Rights Office staff receive and process requests for reviews of grievances from patients of facilities operated by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services dissatisfied with the results of the first two levels of the grievance resolution process.

Approval of Research

Client Rights Office staff reviews all research proposals involving anyone who is served by the office. Recommendations on whether to approve a research project are forwarded to the Administrator of the Division of Public Health, who then decides whether the study will receive final approval from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

History of the Office

A 1972 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, entitled Lessard v. Schmidt, set forth the rights of mental health patients. These rights were adopted into state law with the creation of Wis. Stats. §§ 51.30 and 51.61 in 1976.  The law required the Department of Health and Social Services (now the Department of Health Services) to create administrative rules for a grievance procedure to ensure patient rights. The Client Rights Office was created to oversee the development of administrative rules and the grievance process. Client Rights Office staff drafted administrative rules to implement patient rights and confidentiality.

The original grievance process rules permitted counties to opt into the state’s process or have their own procedure.  In 1997, a change to Wis. Admin. Code ch. DHS 94 required counties to use the state's grievance process.

Mission of the Office

The Client Rights Office's mission is to promote the rights of people receiving services for developmental disability, mental health, and substance use.

One of two primary ways the Client Rights Office does this is through a four-stage grievance process. The Client Rights Office investigates complaints at the third stage and provides quality assurance review and follow-up on the first two-stages of the grievance procedure.

Client Rights Office staff also work collaboratively with individuals receiving services, service providers, and state run facilities to ensure that client rights are fostered. Client Rights Office staff provide support and training to provider staff and at the facilities operated by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. People receiving services also receive assistance from the Client Rights Office when they inquire about their rights or want to know whether their rights have been violated.

Client Rights Office staff envision a future where providers and recipients of services for mental health, substance use, and developmental disability are knowledgeable about and empowered by client rights and the grievance process and where the relationship between provider and recipient of services is consistently collaborative and results in people getting better.

Client Rights Laws and Codes

Wisconsin Client Rights Week is August 1-5, 2016

To recognize the impact of client rights protection, Governor Scott Walker has issued a proclamation declaring August 1-5, 2016, as Client Rights Week in Wisconsin. The Client Rights Office is holding an open house on August 4, 2016. Advocates for client rights and community client rights staff are invited to attend. For more information, please contact the Client Rights Office Supervisor.


The Client Rights Office is attached to the Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Last Revised: July 18, 2016