Iowa's mental health changes raise questions

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 19, 2013 at 9:26 am •  Published: January 19, 2013
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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — State legislators approved a dramatic change in Iowa's mental health system last year, but while officials work to fully implement the new system, some who oversee county programs said they may have to make drastic cuts during this transition period.

The Legislature approved changes to Iowa's system last May, shifting from a system run by counties to a more regional approach in which counties pool their money.

The new approach was meant to minimize differences between urban and rural areas, but county officials said until the regional system is fully implemented in 2014, they may be able to reach fewer of the estimated 150,000 Iowa residents with mental health issues.

"We have had to reduce the amount of services people get in order to stay within the budget," said Ken Hyndman, who oversees mental health programs for Des Moines County.

That's because before the redesign, counties used 50 percent of their budgets to provide the local match for Medicaid. Now that the state provides the local match to Medicaid, local governments see mental health as an area to reduce spending.

And some counties are quickly cutting mental health programs not covered by the federal dollar to pay the state back for late and unpaid Medicaid bills.

Hyndman saw his budget reduced from $5.5 million to $1.7 million this year and was forced to put patients on waiting lists for services.

Iowa redesigned its mental health system to make it more standard, but last month's mass killing of children and educators in Newtown, Conn., has focused national attention on issues surrounding the mentally ill.

State Sen. Jack Hatch said the best way to avoid a Newtown incident is for the state to help fund crisis intervention centers, which operates around the clock to observe and help people having a mental crisis.