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Mental health groups: Bill passage ‘a tipping point’


Advocates for fixing Iowa’s “broken” mental health system say the issue is gaining unprecedented support.

On Tuesday, the Iowa House unanimously passed House File 2456 on a 98-0 vote. The legislation, which Gov. Kim Reynolds said she supports, enacts recommendations of a mental health complex-needs work group along with other mental health system improvements. It now moves on the Senate. 

“It’s quite extraordinary for a significant policy bill to pass unanimously out of a chamber,” said Peggy Huppert, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Iowa. “This isn’t just window dressing. It will improve people’s lives. Its passage shows that we’ve reached a tipping point on this issue. Mental illness affects tens of thousands of Iowans, and they’ve raised their voices in unison to say more must be done.”

Nearly 5,000 Iowans have signed an online petition that calls for passage of the legislation, which “supports a comprehensive, statewide mental health system serving all levels of care.” On Wednesday, representatives of NAMI Iowa, the Iowa Medical Society and the Iowa Hospital Association held a joint press conference at the Iowa Capitol to call attention to the issue. 

“Iowa’s behavioral health system is broken,” Dr. Joyce Vista-Wayne, a Des Moines psychiatrist and current president of the Iowa Medical Society, said in a statement. “As a physician, I fight every day to ensure my patients receive the highest quality care possible. As a psychiatrist, I fight to navigate a fragmented system that fails to connect Iowans in need of mental health and substance abuse treatment with the appropriate level of care in a timely fashion.”  

Vista-Wayne said the recommendations of the Complex Service Needs Workgroup “represent a long-term, sustainable path forward as we look to better integrate physical and behavioral health, expedite care delivery, and position physicians and mental health professionals to deliver care in a setting that meets the individualized needs of our patients.”

Passage of the Complex Service Needs Workgroup recommendations bill is the No. 1 legislative priority of the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association. Marion County Sheriff Jason Sandholdt appeared at the press conference and offered his strong support for the legislation.

“Iowa law enforcement officers know how badly this is needed,” said Sandholdt. “We deal with people with serious mental illness every day. Unfortunately, jails have become the mental health treatment system of last resort. And none of us believes that’s the way things should be.”

To access a publication recently published by dsm Magazine about mental illness in Iowa, “Lifting the Veil,” click here.

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