Area Mental Health Funding Raises Questions

The Winnebago, Hancock, Worth, Wright, and surrounding counties are all a part of a mental health funding program where the money doesn’t just stay their own counties, but could end up in almost any of the counties across the state. Those individuals with brain injuries and those with mental health disabilities benefit from the funding.

The Mental Health Levy, which property tax payers dole out, is collected by the counties and then submitted to Butler County who manages the fund. Twenty two counties make up the region which includes the Winnebago, Hancock, and surrounding counties. For the fiscal year 2018, Winnebago County will contribute $369,756 and Hancock County contributes $364,117. On average, counties surrounding them were paying about the same. The prevailing thought is that by banding twenty two counties together, costs to manage and care for mental health patients could more easily be met. In reality, since the closing of several mental health institutions across the state, such as the Duncan Heights facility in Hancock County, costs to take care of the former resident patients have actually doubled, according to sources.

Some officials in Winnebago County are concerned because potential patients who need temporary institutional care cannot find room in remaining hospitals in predominantly metropolitan areas such as Des Moines or Waterloo. Instead, they are placed on waiting lists. The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office has had to wait a day or more to place a potential patient in one location.

Not all money from the levy goes to institutions, however. Sandy Morales, Mental Health Coordinator in Winnebago, Hancock, and Worth Counties explains.

This week, both the Hancock County Board of Supervisors and the Winnebago County Board were asked to lower their levy by $2 per capita. The adjusted figure meant that Hancock County, who was supposed to pay in $386,065 will now contribute $364,117. Winnebago will send in $369,756 if the measure is approved on April 3rd. Supervisors tabled the measure on Tuesday to investigate other options. The county is considering other, possibly cheaper options such as possibly breaking away from the region and forming a smaller region to keep the money closer to home to support local institutions and programs. Such an action would require approval from the Iowa Legislature and Governor Branstad. The reduction in the levy was due to a surplus of funds in the program.

The levy is based on population. On average, most counties pay $33.18 per capita into the fund. Butler County, who manages the fund, actually passed a measure that puts a cap on the amount the county can charge their residents in the levy, meaning that they pay less then all of the other counties per capita. Butler is capped out at $26.14 per capita for a county with a population of 14,915. This means that they contribute $389,899 into the fund. By contrast, Kossuth County, which has a similar population of 15,960 and has set their rate at $33.18, pays $503,175 into the fund for the same programs and services.

On the top end of the population base, Cerro Gordo County pays nearly $1.5 million and Black Hawk County contributes nearly $4.5 million at the same rate of $33.18. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Worth County contributes $251,139 and Pocahontas sends $232,525 due to populations just over 7,000.

The collected money from the levy is sent to Butler County and then it is distributed in a number of ways according to Morales.

Those who need institutional care are forced to, in most cases, travel to locations almost two hours away involving a change in doctors and sometimes medications. In most cases, this means unfamiliar surroundings, strange faces, and new stress for the mental health patients, along with challenges for family visits. Morales explains.

This means that the local tax dollars that provide the funding for these patients care, are now finding their way out of the region, or at the very least, out of the immediate counties. The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors want to keep these monies closer to home and are investigating alternatives to try and accomplish it.





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