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Mental Health Legislation: “It Won’t Save Everyone”

Joyce Russell/IPR
Gov. Kim Reynolds signs mental health legislation into law, surrounded by legislators and advocates

Families of loved ones who have suffered and died from mental illness gathered in the statehouse rotunda today to see Governor Reynolds sign two mental health bills into law.     

One comprehensive bill creates a new system of care facilities statewide for those in crisis. 

“We must identify the gaps in our system and this bill does that,” Reynolds says.

Words can't express how we feel. -John Bascom, West Des Moines, father of suicide victim

Under the bill, the state’s regional mental health districts will be required to offer new access centers for short-term crisis care. Community teams will offer individual treatment in the home and community.  

The bill also authorizes a new 24-hour hotline and mobile response teams for mental health crises.

Clive Resident Mary Neubauer’s son took his own life last year.  

She says he would have benefited from more so-called sub-acute beds the bill authorizes.

“It's long-term residential mental health care that's not at a full hospitalization level so I'm especially excited to see that,” Neubauer says. “Both of these pieces of legislation are significant in terms of acknowledging the need in Iowa and the huge number of people who need help and in many cases haven't been getting it.”

The second bill mandates suicide prevention training for school employees.

Governor Reynolds personally greeted Juliet and John Bascom, long-time friends from Osceola. The Bascom’s son also committed suicide. The Bascoms had been advocating for the legislation “for a long time.”

“We’re ecstatic about it, so happy,” Juliet Bascom says.

Credit Joyce Russell/IPR
Mary Neubauer, mental health advocate and mother of suicide victim

“Words can't express how we feel,” adds John Bascom. “It's a great first step.”

Other advocates and the governor also made clear the legislation is just “a start.”

“Creating a mental health system… is complex and it can’t happen overnight,” Reynolds says. “I look forward to building on the momentum that we have here today,”

The work group that came up with the bill’s recommendations will continue work next summer on the involuntary commitment process, hospital care for the most difficult patients, and sustainable funding for mental health.

It's a milestone day for mental health. -Gov. Kim Reynolds

In addition, a new program at Des Moines University will train doctors to treat and identify mental illness.  

Currently, Iowa’s region-based system covers adults with mental illness. Reynolds says she will soon sign an executive order to begin developing a children’s mental health service system.    

“It’s vital that steps are taken to identify the early signs of depression and mental health challenges in children,” Gov. Reynolds says. “Through early identification and intervention, we can help prevent the loss of a child to suicide.”

The state’s regional mental health districts will bear the cost of expanding services. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer says lawmakers will look for ways the state can help.  

“There are opportunities we can help with in addition to those dollars,” Upmeyer says.