Iowa has a crisis for mental health care. That was the consensus of three Democratic candidates for statewide office.
Thursday evening the National Association of Social Workers, Iowa Chapter and the Grand View University Social Work Club hosted a town hall for the candidates running for Iowa Governor and for the US Senate.
Every candidate and incumbent was invited to participate. Diedre DeJear attended as a candidate for governor. Bob Krause and Dr. Glenn Hurst were there as candidates for the U.S. Senate.
Each candidate fielded the same five questions about mental health care in Iowa from members of the social workers association and from social work students at Grand View University.
All three emphasized access and funding as the biggest problems to fix.
Iowa ranks 44th in available mental health workforce, and 51st (including DC) in ratio of state psychiatric beds to citizens, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Iowa.
DeJear said the state should have more mental health beds, in-school mental health programs and mental health hotlines for rural, urban and suburban communities. All would increase access.
To make progress on that, she said she would pursue stronger loan forgiveness programs so social workers don’t have to worry about student loans while they work. She also advocated raising the reimbursement social workers receive.
“What I would also like to do is ensure that we are promoting this role and lifting up this role because it is so integral in the work that we do and it impacts every aspect of our lives,” DeJear said.
She also mentioned the need to address the root causes of these problems by fixing the disparities in the education system, health care and the economy.
“We’ve got to come to terms with the root of that problem. And the root is the economy, lack of access to health care, lack of stability in our education system,” she said. “Those are the pieces that are perpetuating crises for individuals across this state. Let’s interrupt that.”
Hurst emphasized changing the way we think about mental health and “bringing the brain back into the body.” He said too often people forget that mental illness is as physical as a broken bone.
“When we talk about mental health problems is comes off as sounding like something people should be able to think their way out of,” he said. “And that’s not what mental health problems are. They are problems of brain chemistry.”
Hurst identified one of the biggest problems as the high turnover and burnout rates in the field.
“Part of it has to do with money,” he said. “Whether it’s funding your education or whether it’s reimbursement for the services that you provide, there’s a huge problem there.”
Debt forgiveness and higher pay for people who work in the mental health care field are important to consider, he said. He also said it should be easier for people to access services, so they don’t have to travel far or wait long for help.
Hurst suggested a Medicare for All model that includes mental health services as one way to provide care to everyone in the country.
Former State Rep. Bob Krause connected his answers to what he’s experienced working with veterans. He also emphasized the need to have more staff, availability around the clock, and making it as easy as possible for providers to get jobs.
The key to doing that, he said, is having standard licensing requirements so people can serve anywhere, and an overall, national framework for providing mental health care.
“What we need is an overarching mental health care act that will push on the need for new health care professionals and the delivery of health care services,” he said.
by Nikoel Hytrek