Senate Bill Aims to Create Mental Health Crisis Centers Across Iowa

(Marissa Hopper/WHO-HD)

DES MOINES, Iowa — Senators are working on a bill which they say will vastly improve Iowa’s ability to handle severe mental health issues, but at least one legislator has concerns over how it would be funded.

Peggy Huppert is the executive director of Iowa’s branch of the national alliance on mental illness. She was on the work group that created the recommendations for lawmakers looking to address mental health in Iowa, and called this bill “Maybe the most significant step forward that we’ve taken in many years in Iowa to improve out mental health system.”

“The idea of six new access centers which would be 24/7, no eject, no reject secure facilities where law enforcement or family members could take people who are in crisis” she said.

The six centers would be spread out, so every Iowan would be within 90 minutes of one. Huppert says the crisis centers would be a more appropriate alternative to emergency rooms or jails, where law enforcement currently takes individuals in crisis.

“They could be evaluated and stabilized, and they could stay for a period of time; there would be beds attached to it, and then they would be referred on to the appropriate level of care” said Huppert.

The bill would mandate the 14 mental health care regions in Iowa to develop the best way to implement these centers.  The bill has support on both sides of the aisle including senator Joe Bolkcom, however, he’s concerned about funding.

“I think what’s proposed today I think is a really good start to deal with some of the crisis needs families face, but I think it’s also important we make sure the state make the investment needed to actually see these services in place” said Bolkcom.

The proposal doesn’t have an estimate for how much it will cost the state.

“I think it’s really important that policy makers here to get a handle on that before we put this into law” said Bolkcom.

Senators in the subcommittee hearing on Wednesday said with funnel week upon them it was important to get the bill out of committee and kept alive for the session. Nina Rickman has two adopted children with mental health issues and hopes lawmakers can hammer out the details.

“This is the future for them in this state and I know they will continue to need services in their life. We have a very intense need in the state and this bill is exciting” said Rickman.

While a portion of the funding for the program would come from property taxes in each region Senator Bolkcom says another portion would have to come from the state. As early as last week the senate de-appropriated 34 million dollars from the budget. Six million of that from the Department of Human Services.