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Iowa's mental health changes raise questions

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 19, 2013 at 9:26 am •  Published: January 19, 2013

"If there's an immediate mental health crisis, counties would have a program with trained professionals to assess the situation and resolve it," Hatch says.

Waterloo has such a facility, and police are trained to recognize if a violent offender has a mental illness and take them to the center instead of putting them in jail.

Crisis centers are one mental health service the new law expects regions to fund on their own.

If regions want to add more services than what's required by state law, that will depend on the wealth of the counties.

Dawn Mentzer, who oversees mental health programs in Buena Vista County, said the redesign has created competition among weaker counties that want to regionalize with those that have a surplus in their budgets.

"Our county supervisors are concerned they will have to pay other counties' debts with our taxpayer's dollars," she said.

A few counties with big mental health budgets want to stand-alone as regions.

Money is the largest unanswered question on the minds of officials working on the issue.

Lawmakers recommended a $20 million, one-time assistance fund to help counties continue services through this transition year.

Counties need that money now but they're still waiting on the Legislature to approve it.

This legislative session, lawmakers will decide at what rate counties can levy tax dollars to support their mental health systems and anticipate how nationwide changes to Medicaid will affect Iowa.

The state has promised to cover what it believes are the basics and in 2014, it will be up to the regions to decide how to better serve their mentally ill.