From Senator Rich Taylor

Written by Theresa Rose on March 5, 2015

ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES MUST BE MAINTAINED

I am committed to continuous improvement of Iowa’s modernized mental health system. That’s why I was as surprised as everyone else when Governor Branstad announced plans to close Mental Health Institutes (MHI) in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda.

These facilities offer specialized services that are not readily available in many areas of the state, including dual inpatient treatment for mental health and substance abuse, as well as psychiatric services designed specifically for older Iowans. Closing these MHIs would reduce or eliminate services for Iowans with severe mental health issues, forcing them to travel hundreds of miles to receive critical care.

It’s important that Iowans have access to mental health services close to home, from basic outpatient therapy to intensive inpatient care for the most severe cases. The Legislature has been working to improve Iowa’s mental health system for years but that work is not yet complete.

In the weeks since the Governor proposed the MHI closings, mental health professionals, community leaders, former patients, their families and advocates have urged the Legislature to resist the proposed closings. The message is clear: Iowa needs to develop and invest in additional community based mental health services before we consider closing existing facilities.

The Governor’s proposal removes a needed mental health service with no coherent plan to ensure effective treatment for some of the worst mental illness cases in Iowa. The Senate is taking a different approach.

SF 333 requires that the state Department of Human Services admit eligible Iowans to the MHIs through the current fiscal year that ends June 30. This bill recently passed on a bipartisan unanimous vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee. During last year’s budgeting process the Legislature approved funding for this purpose and the Governor signed the legislation. The Governor should use those funds as approved.

The second bill, SF 308, sets up a process for the state to develop and implement crucial community based mental health services. Services outlined in the plan and approved by the Legislature must be in place before we consider closing the MHIs. The plan must include input from stakeholders and experts, ensure that transitional services are offered without hurting quality of care, ensure local access to highly trained community and institutionally based care providers and identify stable funding for new services. The Senate Human Resources Committee has approved this bill.

UPCOMING PUBLIC FORUMS

• Friday, March 20, 12 noon: Fort Madison at the Palm’s Supper Club

• Saturday, March 21, 8:30 a.m.: Fairfield at the Best Western Hotel

• Saturday, March 21, 10 a.m.: Washington Economic Development Legislative Forum at the Washington County Courthouse

• Friday, March 27, 12 noon: Keokuk at the Hawkeye Steak House

• Saturday, March 28, 8:30 a.m.: Mount Pleasant at the IWC Library