Report suggests regional approach to mental health in IA


October 31st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa should revamp its mental health system by replacing its county-based approach with regional services and new crisis intervention programs, according to a report by the Department of Human Services that was released Monday. Agency head Chuck Palmer said the current system needs to be changed because there are inequities from county to county. The recommendation calls for creating from five to 15 regional divisions. Palmer said the next six weeks will be spent developing implementation plans with a final report ready for the Legislature in mid-December. DHS officials conducted nine regional forums to hear ideas on reshaping mental health programs in the state, a major issue that the next session of the Legislature will face.

Roughly $1.3 billion is spent each year on mental health programs in the state, with services delivered at the county level. About $120 million of that comes from local property taxes, with the rest coming from state and federal funding. Critics have pushed to overhaul that system, arguing that services vary widely from county to county.

A legislative interim committee will examine the recommendations and key lawmakers of both parties predicted lawmakers will reach agreement. The study committee is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and the issue has not caused partisan divisions. During the last session, lawmakers approved a measure effectively ending the current mental health system in the summer of 2013. The move was designed to put pressure on the Legislature to overhaul the system.