Deidre DeJear wants to fix the state’s mental health care system so that Iowans can access the same type of help that once got her through an extremely difficult time.
When she was eight years old, DeJear’s mother died from childbirth complications. At the time, her father connected DeJear to a grief counselor. In school, teachers and social workers helped support her through her grief.
“I am who I am today because of those people who helped me,” DeJear said.
DeJear, who is running for governor in 2022, said Iowa must focus on building up the infrastructure behind mental health so every Iowan has access to service when and if they need it.
“Our brain health and our mental wellness is integral in every aspect of our lives,” she said. “And these last couple of years has done a number on us. Iowans are strong and we’re resilient. But right now, I don’t think we’ve ever had to deal with something so deeply over a long period of time. I want to ensure that the state is there to have the backs of each and every Iowan on this issue, at the moment in which they choose to seek mental health care.”
DeJear wants to have counselors in schools so students can get help where they spend the most time during the school year, a statewide hotline, and to expand broadband access so more Iowans can use telehealth services. She said practitioners have told her telehealth offerings have led to more people using their services. It also reaches more people because it meets people where they are.
“We’ve got to come to terms with our reality, and I believe we’ve got to nip it in the bud now because this is the type of issue where it’s incredibly important, where we’re preventative versus reactive,” she said.
DeJear also wants to increase the number of access centers in Iowa and ensure they’re built quickly.
Access centers are meant to work such as Urgent Care, providing immediate, short-term help to Iowans with mental health crises. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a 2018 law that would create six in the state, but development is still rolling out.
DeJear would tap the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Department of Human Services to administer programs and put attention where it needs to be.
“Those are our two departments that are well-suited to not only provide education but to also meet the needs of our families throughout the state,” she said.
DeJear would also use money from the surplus to kickstart funding because Iowa’s mental health care situation is the rainy day the surplus is for. She also said different counties have good programs and systems already in place, and funding on a local level could be used to help at the state level.
“Let’s have a comprehensive approach to this,” she said. “It’s going to take a village for us to overcome it, and I don’t want just the larger counties to benefit from these types of resources.”
Last year, the legislature passed, and Reynolds signed, a bill that would shift funding for mental health services to the state government, rather than having them rely on property taxes in different regions. The ultimate goal is to make mental health services equal, and DeJear said the state has to do its part.
“Needless to say, we need leadership who’s willing to lead us down a pathway that will truly resolve this challenge,” DeJear said. “While it’s incredibly important for our legislators to be on board, it’s also important for our governor to be on board to and to lead on this issue.”
Reimbursement rates and evolving training needs for providers are also areas DeJear would like to fix so the people doing the work are able to continue.
“When I look at the bills that were passed in this past session, none truly address the mental health concerns that Iowans are facing,” she said. “It’s time to show up and do the work, and I’m going to be that one to do the work.”
“We see the impacts right before our eyes. This is a symptom of a larger issue that our state has to address. That’s what it’s there for.”