Mental Collapse: Iowa’s Mental Health Crisis

People who deal with mental health and those who deal with it say Iowa is facing a crisis.

A family says their loved one asked for help and didn’t get it. They point the finger at Iowa’s mental health system failing them and leading to a triple murder in Bondurant, Iowa.

Gov. Terry Branstad says Iowa’s mental health system is better after two facilities closed and changes have modernized that system.

“There was a time when we used to put them in these, what they called insane asylums,” Branstad said.

Meanwhile, doctors say it’s a ‘national and state failure’.

“The system is down and it’s getting worse,” said Dr. Alan Whitters, medical director of behavioral health at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids.

So how did Iowa get to where it is now? In January 2015, Governor Branstad announced plans to close mental health facilities in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda. They closed in June. Now the state has opened two facilities in Cherokee and Independence.

This has contributed to the declining number of mental health beds in Iowa. The nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center recommends 50 mental health beds for every 100,000 people. Iowa has two beds per 100,000 people. This ranks dead last in the country.

But Gov. Branstad points to the state’s tracking system, which shows between 60 and 100 beds open in Iowa at any given time.

“We’ve been more focused on treating people who have mental health issues. Then if they continue on medication, they can often manage those conditions,” Gov. Branstad said.

Lawmakers are also aware of the crisis. On April 15, the League of Women Voters held a legislative forum on the issue in Cedar Rapids. Supporters have been pushing for more funding to reverse the downward trend in beds.

Republican Congressman Dave Heaton says they worked to make changes to Iowa law during the last legislative session.

“We passed a law and sent it to the governor that hospitals licensed for mental health services will have to report their vacant beds twice a day, so we know we have an accurate count,” Heaton said.

Democratic Senator Liz Mathis said lawmakers are looking for other ways to help.

“At the legislative level, we are trying to figure out how to better train people in the labor market on mental health,” Mathis said. “To make sure there’s money behind it. To ensure that salaries are good for people who work in mental health, because they are not always the best. If you’re pursuing your master’s degree in social work, which is required for some of the things you have to do, it’s very expensive. And then the pay isn’t so good on the other side, because it’s mostly non-profits doing the work.

To see all the stories related to our special presentation, “The Mental Breakdown”, look for the links to these stories in the right column on your screen.

So where can people go for help? Here are many links to hospitals, groups, and organizations in eastern Iowa, as well as the state. This is just a list of some of the services available to people.

Eastern Iowa hospitals include the

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and

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The state of Iowa also offers many services. Here is the link to the

as good as

and

. We have also included the link to

in Omaha, Nebraska.

There are also many organizations that aim to help people and their loved ones struggling with mental health issues. Some of them include

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and

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This is a link to

. Here you can download the main results of the mental health needs assessment.

And this is a link to the non-profit organization

and their Iowa branch.

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