Staff Editorial

Mental health group can build political will

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday signed an executive order creating a Children's Mental Health Board to make recommendations and then oversight implementation of children's mental health programs, services and resources in Iowa. Pictured from left to right: Mary Neubauer, the parent of a health-challenged teen who took his own life; Peggy Huppert, executive director of the Iowa chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); Reynolds; and acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday signed an executive order creating a Children's Mental Health Board to make recommendations and then oversight implementation of children's mental health programs, services and resources in Iowa. Pictured from left to right: Mary Neubauer, the parent of a health-challenged teen who took his own life; Peggy Huppert, executive director of the Iowa chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); Reynolds; and acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

Gov. Kim Reynolds is taking aim at one of the state’s persistent gaps in mental health services through the creation of a new Children’s Mental Health Board. It’s more movement in a positive direction that soon will require additional state investment.

On Monday, Reynolds signed an executive order to establish the new board, which will have until the end of the year to develop recommendations to establish a children’s mental health system in Iowa.

As members of the state’s existing Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being Advisory Committee will attest, the problem is massive. This group, created by the legislature in December 2015, is comprised of providers, advocates, policymakers and stakeholders from across the state, and has been working on the issues surrounding children’s behavioral health care in Iowa for two years.

Among its discoveries is that Iowa has no point of responsibility or dedicated funding for coordinated children’s mental health system, and that existing mental health and disability regions in the state are not required to manage or fund such services. As a result, children in need are served primarily by a disconnected series of providers, knowledge and resources. Some portions of Iowa are service deserts, making the ability to access care too often tied to geography.

Iowa children diagnosed with behavioral health issues too often are separated from their families — sometimes in out-of-state facilities — because communities either don’t offer services specific to children or those services are already over capacity.

The existing group has advocated on behalf of a coordinated system that would allow children to be served and supported within the context of their existing families and community support system. To that end the Legislature has supported and the advisory committee oversaw the implementation of two crisis intervention pilots and two well-being learning labs in 2016, and three children’s well-being collaboratives in 2017. Even so, much remains to be done.

The new executive order and committee working directly with the executive branch is a welcome signal that Gov. Reynolds plans to take more ownership of this persistent gap. That’s good news for Iowa families in need, and for local leaders frustrated with their inability and lack of authority to provide prevention and treatment services.

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In a not-too-distant future, however, state officials need to acknowledge and address the long-standing lack of financial investment, which is now and has been the biggest obstacle to the creation of a coordinated care system for children. Studying an issue is a low-cost, necessary step. Action carries a significant price tag.

We’re hopeful Reynolds’ executive order will build the political will necessary for such an investment.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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