The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa


December 18, 2012

Mental health redesign plan comes under fire

Legislators hear concerns about redesign

CLINTON — Iowa state legislators Mary Wolfe and Steve Olson heard concerns about the mental health redesign Monday morning.

The Clinton County Board of Supervisors held its annual meet and greet with the legislators. During the meeting, the board, as well as members of the county, expressed concerns about the mental health redesign and its effect on the county.

“I don’t think it’s bad for us to re-examine those services and decide is this service something that we could eliminate or is this one that we shouldn’t. But I think that the thing of it is, if you could leave it at the local level,” Supervisor Jill Davisson said.

The board expressed concerns about the programs the county could lose with the current mental health redesign. Davisson said that the county is looking at more than a half-million dollars in cuts with the redesign.

The county had been hoping to receive some of the possible $20 million transition funds. However, Supervisor John Staszewski reported that he recently received an e-mail stating that only three counties would receive funds.

Wolfe, D-Clinton, told the board that when the funding mechanism was created, the state made the compromise that any counties with any outstanding state bills that are in dispute would have them forgiven. She believes some of the transition funds will be used for this purpose. She did note that Clinton County pays its state bills.

“Again, because you’re doing what you should be doing, you’re going to lose out,” Wolfe said.

Davisson was concerned with the lack of clarity in the redesign. She pointed out that many counties are upset with the idea that funds would be pooled within regions. She felt that Scott County might not have accepted Clinton County in a region with the idea that funds would be pooled. Wolfe said the only way to make the redesign work is to pool funds. She said that it would make sense for backfill money to be pooled, while individual property taxes in each county remain separate.

Chairman Brian Schmidt said he feels it is not fair that Clinton County is told to lower its levy and is not provided any extra funds, while a county that has a lower levy leaves it the same and receives money. Davisson added that there is no use in being equal in mental health. She feels funds should be based on needs.

“Figure out who needs the money and send the money to help where the needs are piling up, or being found,” Davisson said.

The board agreed that the problem remains, that counties need to be able to levy for the needed amount. This could still be a possibility.

“I know there is a desire amongst various counties to modify, amend the bill to allow supervisors in individual counties to continue to levy at their current rate if they feel that lowering the levy to the 47.3 per capita number would negatively impact mental health services for their county,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said she is personally in favor of allowing counties to levy at their current rates if necessary.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that there will be changes made. You know it’s not going to stay the way it was,” Olson said. “Exactly what change or what happens, I am not certain.”

Representatives from Clinton County agencies spoke to Wolfe and Olson about the issues arising from the cuts in mental health funds. Area law enforcement noted a rise in arrests related to mental health issues. Assistant Jail Administrator Joe Steffen said that instead of getting the help they need, these individuals are being arrested and jailed.

Steffen used the example of a man who had always received treatment and was managing his mental illness. He said once his mental health services are taken away, he might begin self-medicating through marijuana and alcohol. Eventually this can lead to charges such as trespass, possession, public intoxication, disorderly conduct or interference with official acts.

Steffen told Wolfe and Olson that 20 percent of the jail population is currently on medication for serious mental illness. He added that when including minor mental health issues, that number jumps to 55 or 65 percent.

“To me, it just seems intelligent to keep good mental health in place so they don’t even come into my facility,” Steffen said.

Executive Director of Bridgeview Marcia Christiansen wants to see the county’s ability to levy at its current rate restored. Last year, Bridgeview provided more than 33,000 services to more than 4,000 people. She said almost 90 percent of the services were in Clinton County. After losing its block grant, Christiansen worries that the organization will be unable to continue to provide services for too much longer. That agency is operating at a deficit everyday, she said.

“If Clinton County cannot maintain their levy where it is and Bridgeview gets at least part of their block grant back, that we won’t be around in a few years and Clinton will be a very unsafe place to live,” Christiansen said.

The board agreed that Bridgeview is an important part of the county.

“We’ve got to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves,” Davisson said. “And we have been given that charge as one human being to another and we have to fight. We have to fight for them. Because they can’t fight for themselves. They don’t have the ability.”

Davisson feels the county will see more problems if they cannot help these people in need.


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