Client Rights Office

The Client Rights Office serves people receiving services for developmental disability, mental health, and substance use. People may receive these services in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings, including adult family homes, clinics, community-based residential facilities, facilities operated by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and group homes. 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, policymakers, 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.

History of the office

A 1972 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 Wisconsin 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 1996, a change to Wis. Admin. Code ch. DHS 94 required counties to use the state's grievance process.

Laws and codes

The Client Rights Office is part of the Division of Care and Treatment Services.

Last Revised: May 8, 2020