County Supervisor concerned about mental health care reform; wants action taken

With the recent tragedy in Connecticut, the national conversation has shifted to both gun control and mental illness.

In Iowa, mental health reform is going to be a big topic of conversation when the Iowa General Assembly convenes in January.

On Friday, KTVO spoke with State Representative Mary Gaskill of Ottumwa about her concerns with Governor Branstadâ??s proposed changes to Iowaâ??s mental health system.

Gaskill told KTVO that she is concerned about the funding cuts to programs throughout the state; a concern echoed by Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel.

â??In Wapello County, for the next two years we will be in reasonably good shape, but there are 30-some counties now that are not able to cover their costs for the current year, and are going to have to put people on waiting lists,â?? said Siegel.

â??Given the priority that we are seeing in our nation now on mental health after the school shooting last week, you would think that mental health would be a priority, and we would be increasing funding; but in fact the legislature is reducing funding,â?? Siegel said.

â??Representative Heaton from Mt. Pleasant this week told the larger counties that they were going to have to cut services; so there is something really wrong with the direction this whole organization is going,â?? Siegel said.

As for a plan, Supervisor Siegel says that lawmakers need to allow counties to levy what they see appropriate.

â??What we need to do is take the cap off. The legal cap off that the legislature put on what counties could levy toward mental health, and let the counties levy what they and their tax payers see fit for mental health,â?? Siegel said.

Even though Wapello County will not have to reduce programs for another two years, some services will have to be cut due to reduced funding.

â??For mental health, we are going to be forced to eliminate the non-core services that the state has designated; and medications is not one of those, the Promise Center is not one of those, block grants for your mental health center is not one of those; and those are probably the largest ones we have that are non-core services,â?? Siegel said.

Siegel says that if and when these services are cut, it is not because of the counties or the supervisors; it is due to the fact that transition funding that was promised to the counties has not been delivered.

â??We are going to continue them as long as we can. But the fact that the legislature promised $20 million for transition funding, but only delivered $1.5 million to three counties instead of the 30 counties that needed it, it does not bode well,â?? Siegel said.

The three counties that funding was delivered to are Scott (Quad Cities), Linn (Cedar Rapids) and Polk County (Des Moines).

Siegel says that if you want to take action on this matter, you need to contact both your state representative and senator.