Guest post from House Democratic Leader Mark Smith
That’s Iowa’s new ranking in mental health beds available for our citizens. It’s an embarrassing ranking and a critical situation for Iowa families with loved ones suffering from mental illnesses.
The ranking comes from the non-partisan Treatment Advocacy Center in a report that came out last week. It found Iowa has just 64 state beds for mental health patients, which translates into two beds for every 100,000 Iowans.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. The report also found that 60% of those mental health beds are already being used by inmates in our correctional system. That leaves just 26 state beds available for 3.1 million Iowans.
It means too many Iowans have to wait for weeks, months or even years to get the mental health services they desperately need. It means hospitals have to hold patients for months trying to find placement. It means law enforcement officials spend days and days trying to find placements for our citizens who need mental health services. It means we’re wasting millions of our tax dollars every year locking up Iowans with mental health issues instead of treating them.
While there have been warning signs for years about the lack of services available for those suffering from mental illnesses, the situation has gotten dramatically worse in Iowa over the last two years under the reign of Governor Terry Branstad.
Two years ago, Branstad unilaterally shut down two mental health institutes (MHI) in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda without approval from lawmakers. Closing those two facilities meant we lost 83 beds. Even worse, those closings led to the deaths of three Iowans who were moved out of those two facilities.
Just last month, Branstad struck again. He gave no warning and unilaterally closed down 15 psychiatric beds for children at the state’s mental health institute in Independence. Of course, Branstad said no patients were being treated, but that’s because his administration directed staff to stop admitting patients months ago.
It’s no coincidence Branstad waited until we had adjourned for the year before shutting it down. He did the same thing closing down the facilities in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda as well as the Toledo Juvenile Home for girls back in 2013.
I have spent the majority of my adult life working with people with mental illnesses. The reality of mental health treatment – and the biggest challenge our prisons, law enforcement, and health care providers face today – is keeping patients safe in state or private mental health beds while implementing proper medication regimes, initiating proper therapy, providing community support, and developing a plan for ongoing therapy.
Right now, there are a total 731 mental beds (public and private) available in Iowa. However, statistics show there are about 123,000 Iowans suffering from a serious mental illness.
Most of the patients in those beds should be transferred, over time and with the proper transition, to community based care. To do so will require more psychiatrists trained and working in communities as well as additional supporting personnel such as Psychiatric Advanced Nurse Practitioners, Social Workers, Psychologists, Physician Assistants, and Counselors.
The truth is we don’t have enough capacity in the community based mental health network to meet the need we are facing right now. And that’s the fundamental problem that Branstad and Republicans refuse to address.
By ignoring a severe shortage of mental health services and cutting mental health beds, Branstad and Republicans have turned a bad situation into a terrible crisis.
Dead last. It’s a ranking Branstad and Republicans have earned.
by Mark Smith