Public safety and medical professionals say Iowa has a mental health crisis. Legislators have been tackling that problem by improving the way mental health services are provided in our state. This year, we took steps to:
- Make more emergency psychiatric beds available (SF 401).
- Create a psychiatric bed tracking system so that medical professionals and law enforcement can quickly find openings (HF 449)
- Help Iowans access mental health and substance abuse treatment services closer to home (SF 440).
- Streamline the employment, qualifications and duties of mental health advocates (HF 468).
But Governor Branstad may be making Iowa’s mental health crisis worse. With a stroke of his veto pen, the Governor nixed a bipartisan plan to keep all four of Iowa’s mental health institutes (MHIs) operating (SF 505, HF 666).
Republican and Democratic legislators reached an agreement to keep open the Mount Pleasant MHI, which provided mental health and substance use disorder services, and to transition the Clarinda MHI to a private nursing facility for hard-to-place patients with aggression or other psychological conditions.
The Governor justified his veto of funding for the two MHIs by saying they are outdated and that services can be provided more effectively and efficiently by private agencies. Unfortunately, those services are not yet in place. With the Governor’s unilateral decision to close the Mount Pleasant and Clarinda facilities, Iowans in need of mental health services may find even fewer options available to them.
Health service providers, public safety officers, religious leaders and advocates worry that mentally ill patients with substance abuse problems will end up in emergency rooms, jails or worse—rather than getting treatment.
As we continue redesigning Iowa’s mental health system to better serve those in need, we’ll be looking for ways to patch the holes left by the Governor’s vetoes so that Iowans have better access to mental health services when they need them.