Mental health care in the state of Iowa is at a crisis point and there’s no mistaking how we got here. Former Governor Branstad and Governor Reynolds have systematically undermined and underfunded programs and facilities designed to help those battling a wide range of mental health issues. In the past several years, Branstad and Reynolds decided on their own without input from the legislature to close the mental health facilities in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda. The result is a dramatic decrease in the number of inpatient beds available to Iowans in crisis situations.
Their decision has proven to be tragic for patients who now are not able to receive the care they need. It has also placed significant new burdens on other health care facilities that are not equipped to provide the services these patients desperately require. It has created real challenges for law enforcement officials who are forced to keep those suffering from mental health issues in prison rather than transferring them to a health care facility with medical professionals who can provide the best treatment.
Mental health issues impact people of all ages across all types of communities. Our state should provide a full range of services to any Iowan who is battling these real and often debilitating illnesses. The gaps in service that currently exist are leading to more crisis situations and an increased need for costly and preventable emergency services.
It comes down to priorities. As governor, I refuse to follow the Branstad Reynolds model that ignores real and pressing health care issues. We can do better and as governor I will fight to reopen the facilities in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda. We should also recommit to helping patients in these facilities move into community based care by investing in more training and funding for psychologists, social workers, nurses, and more.
Additionally, Iowa needs to do more to support our military men and women who too often struggle with post-traumatic stress disorders. As a veteran who served four tours overseas, this issue is personal to me. Soldiers I fought with have battled depression and substance abuse issue while others have even made the tragic decision to take their own lives.
We cannot continue to fail our military families and veterans or let the issues they face fall between the cracks. Clearly, there are disparities in the services being provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans. As governor, I will fight every day to ensure Iowans who served our country receive the highest quality care available including the mental health services that can improve and even save lives. Other states, Connecticut in particular, have provided an effective roadmap we can follow.
- Iowa should provide more proactive and ongoing outreach to the National Guard and military families both before and after deployment. These efforts provide critical information about mental health challenges that may arise and the services available to address them.
- We should embed clinicians directly with National Guard units to provide support to those about to deploy and help direct those who need help to the best available local service.
- More outpatient counseling referral services and community case management will provide better care that meets each individual’s unique needs and challenges.
Taken together, these critical programs more effectively identify and treat the mental health issues our service people confront and the challenges their families face before, during, and after their loved one is deployed.
In order to fund these efforts, I will immediately end Governor Reynolds failed Medicaid privatization program. In just over a year, this reckless initiative could cost taxpayers an additional $235 million (see here). Ten million of that is directly from state funds on top of the $33 million in tax dollars the administration funneled into the program in the fall of 2016. On top of that, the private companies now managing Iowa’s Medicaid program are requesting the state pay them even higher rates, which will only make these financial losses worse. Reynolds’ Medicaid privatization scheme has put health care providers in Iowa out of businesses and reduced the quality of health care for our most vulnerable neighbors. It’s time for it to end and redirect those dollars into addressing Iowa’s growing crisis in mental health.