I believe we have a responsibility to provide needed mental health services to all Iowans when they need them most. With the elimination of two state hospitals in 2016, Iowa currently ranks last in the country in access to psychiatric services per capita. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center*, each state should operate 40 beds per 100,000. We currently have just two (2) beds per 100,000.
The recent cuts to funding for mental health services further burdens our schools and jails. In fact, it is estimated that at least 38% of those in jail at any given time have untreated mental illness and should not be in jail. These cuts force teachers and administrators to address students’ mental health concerns with limited resources. These cuts also result in increased reliance on the criminal justice system as an improper replacement for mental healthcare and hospitals. Iowa state law enforcement officials2 have said that as many as a third of the people in Iowa’s jails do not belong there and would be better helped by mental health professionals.
To address these issues:
- We must increase our investment in Iowa’s mental health system by increasing--not eliminating--access points to mental healthcare, especially in our rural communities, including increasing telemedicine options. We must ensure our most vulnerable have access to the care they need, especially in rural Iowa. This includes establishing six (6) access centers* (Source: Working group report) across the state that would be within a 90-minute drive for any Iowan. These centers would be 24/7, secure facilities with a No Eject, No Reject policy where law enforcement and family members could take people in crisis. We also need to address the shortage of healthcare professionals currently serving Iowa’s rural commutes.
- We must increase mental health services in our schools. One in five students will experience a serious debilitating mental illness. We need a public health approach to education, outreach, identification and treatment of youth mental health issues with established measures that tell us how we are progressing on this critical threat to our children’s health and wellbeing. I support training for counselors, AEAs, and teachers, focusing on awareness and intervention as well as suicide awareness prevention.
- We must update our model for funding mental health services in our state. Our current funding for mental health services is built on a county tax levy which feeds into a regional mental health delivery system. This funding model is antiquated and limiting. Currently, the county tax levy has two caps: a total dollar limit and a per capita limit. This hinders a county’s ability to fund needed mental health services and trainings, creating a domino effect in counties across the state. I recommend removing the total dollar cap to ensure our regions can provide the services they need, and close the gap between what the tax raises and what the counties are already spending.
Note: Access centers are specially organized and designated crisis residential/sub-acute services that provide immediate, short-term assessment and treatment services to individuals that do not require inpatient psychiatric hospital level of care, but need significant amounts of support and services not immediately available in the individual’s home or other available community-based setting such as non-designated crisis residential or sub-acute services.