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Options Approved for Mentally Ill in Crisis; Current Services Called “Dismal”

Joyce Russell/IPR
Iowa House of Representatives

A bill to address Iowa’s low ranking among states for services for the mentally ill was unanimously approved today by the Iowa House.    

The bill expands treatment options across the state to address crisis situations which fall short of the need for hospitalization.  

Mental health care matters. -Rep. Shannon Lundgren

A bipartisan coalition of providers, patients, advocates, and law enforcement came up with the recommendations.   

Rep. Shannon Lundgren (R-Dubuque)  said mental health and substance abuse disorders have touched every Iowa family.

“There’s nothing more heart-wrenching than hearing a story about a family trying to meet the needs of a loved one and they have no clear path for services,” Lundgren said. “Some of these stories end tragically and we should never accept that as acceptable.”

Under the bill, Mental Health and Disability Services Regions around the state, known as MHDS regions,  would be required to offer crisis residential services to provide short-term assessment and treatment for patients.  

Intensive Residential Service Homes would accept court-ordered commitments with a policy not to reject or eject patients.   

Also, the bill lifts the cap on so-called sub-acute beds for the mentally ill, which was included in  Gov. Reynolds’ recommendations. 

Iowa has been ranked among the bottom five states in the country for mental health services.  

We were in the negative zone. -Rep. Timi Brown-Powers

Waterloo Democrat Timi Brown-Powers called the work on the bill a true mental health reform movement.

“This a start,” Brown-Powers said. “We needed to start somewhere because we were in the negative zone.”    We know we need to continue to work together to bring adequate mental health services to our children.

Services for children are not addressed in the bill. 

“I hope that will be the next phase that we work on,” said Rep. Lisa Heddons (D-Ames).

The bill’s backers say Medicaid will pay for most of the treatment.  The Legislative Services Agency estimates a cost of close to $7 million to the state treasury over the next two years.  

MHDS regions across the state will be required to adopt the new practices at an estimated cost of more than $14 million over the next two years.  

The bill calls for more study of the role of specialized psychiatric hospitals in Iowa’s continuum of care.    

In addition to the treatment options, the bill clarifies that health care professionals can report threatening behavior of a patient to law enforcement without violating privacy laws.  And the bill allows service regions to contract with private transportation services to transport patients in crisis rather than using law enforcement or an ambulance. 

A similar bill is under consideration in the Iowa Senate. 

“Today we can tell Iowans  that mental health care matters,” Lundgren said.