Government

Hubbell: Invest early to save on mental health costs

Democrat tours Foundation 2 in Cedar Rapids in swing through state

Mental health was the topic of discussion Friday during Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell’s (second from left) visit to Foundation 2 in Cedar Rapids. Also on hand were (from left) state Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids; Hubbell; and Emily Blomme, Cheryl Plotz, Elisabeth Kissling, Drew Martel and Matthew Pollock, all from Foundation 2. (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)
Mental health was the topic of discussion Friday during Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell’s (second from left) visit to Foundation 2 in Cedar Rapids. Also on hand were (from left) state Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids; Hubbell; and Emily Blomme, Cheryl Plotz, Elisabeth Kissling, Drew Martel and Matthew Pollock, all from Foundation 2. (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Investing early on in community-based intervention programs for suicidal people and those in crisis would save money on mental health in the long run, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell said during a Friday morning campaign stop at the Cedar Rapids office of Foundation 2, a crisis intervention organization.

Hubbell’s plan would reduce the growing strain on more costly resources that get taxed in the name of mental health, such as emergency rooms, jails and police officers, he said.

“It takes a willingness to invest upfront in the staffing and the technology and support so people can actually put the programs in place,” said Hubbell, 66, a Des Moines businessman.

“You can see the evidence in Linn County and Johnson County and Polk County and a few other places, if the right tools, people and procedures are in place, we can help mentally ill people and people with substance abuse problems and get them out of the jail and out of the emergency room and get them back into their normal life,” he said. “The individuals benefit, but the state saves money.”

During the 45-minute visit to Foundation 2, 1640 Second Ave. SE, Hubbell, one of seven Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for governor, sought input from staff.

The visit was part of the third leg of a four-day, 19-stop statewide tour focused on business, mental health and education.

The tour also included Iowa City, Davenport, Clinton and Fairfield and continues Saturday with stops in Ames, Fort Dodge and Carroll.

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While Foundation 2 offered examples of success, such as its mobile response teams, hotlines and crisis intervention teams, the agency — funded by United Way, contracts, and state and county contributions — reported growing demand.

Crisis phone calls reached 26,238 in fiscal 2017, up 8 percent from the previous year; 4,846 suicide-related calls, up 18 percent; and 130 Managed Care Organization dispatches in November 2017, up 241 percent compared to November 2014.

“Our staff are well trained,” said Emily Blomme, executive director of Foundation 2. “These people save lives, and the dollars aren’t there to pay them what they are worth. And that is disappointing as an executive director.”

Around the state, particularly in rural areas, the effective tools Foundation 2 has are largely absent, Hubbell said.

Foundation 2 contracts its services to underserved areas, but the effectiveness is challenged when, for example, a mobile response team must travel two hours to intervene in an emergency situation, staff said.

Hubbell also highlighted the lack of crisis services for youth around the state.

While Hubbell did not identify specific funding plans, he sought feedback on lifting the cap on the property tax levy for mental health as a local tool to generate money. He didn’t specifically call for lifting the cap.

Linn County has a 76-cent levy per $1,000 in property value for mental health, which generated $8 million in fiscal 2018, which was just below the county’s cap of $8.2 million, according to Dawn Jindrich, budget director for Linn County.

Hubbell has been among the front-runners in the Democratic field, finishing first in an Iowa Starting Line-commissioned poll in November. This week he announced he had raised $3 million for his campaign last year, with donations coming from all 99 counties.

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That was the highest total announced thus far except for Gov. Kim Reynolds on the Republican side, who reported raising $3.7 million last year and a total campaign fund of $4.1 million. The primary is June 5.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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