SUNDAY TALK: Upmeyer on Access to Mental Health Care

Seeing all the pictures of the flooding across the state is sad. More than half the counties in the state are currently under a disaster declaration and it is causing significant issues for countless Iowans.

I was glad to see that Vice President Pence traveled to the southwest corner of the state with Governor Reynolds to survey the damage. It is important that the federal government knows what we are experiencing right now so I am glad he came to see it in person.

My heart goes out the many Iowans who have been impacted by the floods. I will work with the Governor to make sure that we are ready help where necessary.

When I am out talking to Iowans, one of the priorities that come up in conversation frequently is mental health care. Mental health is something that touches the lives of many which is what makes it a top of mind issue for countless Iowans. Over the last several years, we have worked to increase access to services and ensure equitable funding across the state.

Last session, Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass landmark legislation that fills many of the gaps in Iowa’s mental health system. This bill was crafted by bringing experts to the table like mental health professionals, providers, and advocates to develop recommendations on how to bring services to our communities.

We took those recommendations and implemented them within Iowa’s community-based, regional mental health system to ensure that when someone needs help, they have a place to go. This legislation set core services to be made available and established mental health access centers across the state where people on the verge of a crisis can seek treatment and be stabilized.

While that legislation was focused on adults, children’s mental health is a priority as well. It was important that we get the adult system in place, and now we turn our attention to Iowa’s kids.

This week, we passed legislation that builds on last year’s efforts to establish the framework for a mental health system specifically designed for Iowa’s children. This important bill sets up the infrastructure of the system, bringing together mental health providers, parents, and advocates to lead the implementation. It also sets eligibility guidelines for the programs and determines core services that will be provided.

One of the most important components of this legislation is that it continues to focus on local, community-based solutions. This bill requires every mental health region across the state to have a local care coordinator tasked with assisting parents identify mental health care or treatment for their child. It also expands a statewide 24 hour hotline to provide expertise on children’s mental health issues when parents need to find care. Both of these options ensure that when a child is facing a mental health issue, parents have dedicated places where they can identify local providers and find support.

We are also looking at ways to increase the number of mental health professionals in Iowa, especially in rural parts of the state. All of this work and effort won’t mean much if we don’t have the providers needed to address mental health concerns. Our budget plan includes funding for medical residency training that prioritizes Iowans while also providing a rural experience component. We have also included funding to help train Iowa teachers to recognize the signs of mental illness.

Like those of us in the Legislature, mental health is a priority for Governor Reynolds. She spoke about the topic of mental health care frequently during her campaign last fall and made it a central piece of her Condition of the State address. I want to thank her for getting the conversation rolling last summer when she signed an executive order that move this discussion forward.

This is a strong first step to ensure access to mental health services and treatment, regardless of age. This legislation is a clear indication that mental health is a priority for Iowa and we will continue working on this topic moving forward.

As session continues to move forward, please feel free to reach out and share your thoughts. If I can be of any assistance, you can contact me by email at Linda.Upmeyer@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-3521.