The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

October 12, 2012

Forum opens debate on mental health

By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — Citizens got the chance to learn more about the mental health redesign and get some answers about the new bill that may impact the county greatly.

Iowans with Disabilities in Action and Iowa Office of Consumer Affairs provided an open forum for the community Thursday at Clinton Community College.

“There is still an awful lot we don’t know yet,” Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council Public Policy Manager Rik Shannon said. “We’re not here to say it’s a good or bad bill. We’re just here to keep you informed.”

Iowans with Disabilities in Action is a nonpartisan project that was launched to help better represent Iowans with disabilities. ID Action is designed to increase the active participation of Iowans with disabilities in political and civic opportunities that promote positive change.

State legislators passed the bill on mental health and disability redesign in late May. All counties will move toward a statewide average in property taxes collected for mental-health services at $47.28. Some counties, like Clinton, will take large cuts, while others will see little change. Currently Clinton County taxpayers pay $58.71. With the new tax rate, the county will lose more than $10 per taxpayer leading to a $561,224 budget cut for the county’s mental health services.

“There is a big inequity across the state, some counties have more mental health coverage than others,” Shannon said. “This bill is just an attempt to equalize spending.”

The bill was brought forward as a way to even out services available across the state. Counties now raise about $125 million annually from those taxes, but their tax rates vary widely, leading to vastly different levels of service in different areas of the state. Regionalization is also a big part of the plan. Mental health services will change from being managed by county supervisors to regional boards consisting of supervisors from multiple counties. Clinton recently teamed up with Cedar, Jackson, Muscatine and Scott counties to form a regional mental health board.

Major changes affect core services, eligibility for services and Medicaid. Core services are expanded and must be available to people regardless of where they live and who pays their bill, but only as funding allows. Eligibility for services will be limited to contain costs. People with developmental disabilities and brain injuries are left off the list of those eligible, while those with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses will remain eligible. The cost of Medicaid services will shift to the state. Non-medicaid services and services to people not eligible for Medicaid will be paid for with county property taxes.

The community conversation provided a place for those with disabilities, advocates, family members, and providers to start talking about mental health and disability redesign, and what it means to the community. This new system has left many with questions, several of which were answered at the forum.

“It’s a confusing bill and the vast majority of the community doesn’t understand or know all the details,” Rep. Mary Wolfe, of Clinton, said. Wolfe voted against the bill.

“I’m a lawyer and I found it hard to understand at first.”

Clinton County will see cuts to mental health programs and services as a result of the bill. Bridgeview Community Health Center, the county’s only psychiatric care facility, will face a $465,000 loss of a mental health block grant. Several other local mental health agencies in the area are expected to suffer from redesign budget cuts and the complete elimination of mental health block grants including Pathway Living Center, Cornerstone Wellness Center and Clinton County Case Management.

“Even when the election is over, we need to keep this issue in front of the people,” Shannon said.