116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Mental health care workers and patients would be in line for assistance under a package of bills introduced by state lawmakers.
Iowa House Republicans have introduced four bills that would aim to add more mental health beds at state-run mental health facilities, establish more psychiatric residencies in the state, and create a loan repayment program for mental health care workers.
Iowa Rep. Ann Meyer, a Republican from Fort Dodge and chairwoman of the House committee through which the bills will run, spoke to reporters about the proposals Tuesday at the Iowa Capitol.
“It’s just such a crisis,” Meyer said. “It’s a crisis that needs to be addressed in a big way.”
• House Study Bill 532 would fund 12 new psychiatric residencies through the University of Iowa at the state’s mental health care facilities in Cherokee and Independence and the medical and classification center at Oakdale. “We know that we can fill those spots. We need to do something to get psychiatrists into the state of Iowa,” Meyer said. The program would cost $1.2 million in its first year and double the number of residencies to 24 and the cost to $2.4 million the following year.
• House Study Bill 537 would create a loan repayment program for mental health care workers. Participants would be required to commit to working in Iowa for five years.
• House Study Bill 531 would increase by 50 percent the number of beds at Independence and Cherokee. Meyer said this proposal faces the unique challenge of also requiring sufficient workers to staff any new beds. “We need to have places for our highest-crisis patients to be treated,” Meyer said.
• House Study Bill 530 would establish a higher state reimbursement rate to providers for patients with complex psychiatric needs.
Peggy Huppert, executive director of the Iowa chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the group supports the four bills.
"We really do need to turn our attention to workforce, and beds remain a critical issue,“ Huppert said.
Iowa Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, a Democrat from Waterloo and member of the committee through which the bills would advance, said she supports the proposals and believes mental health care policy can and should be bipartisan efforts.
“I’m excited to see mental health bills come in,” said Brown-Powers, who works in health care for MercyOne. “I’ve been here for eight years, and we’ve done very little to actually help those families and those folks with mental health. So it’s time. It’s over time to do that.”
Brown-Powers said she hopes the legislation has “teeth” and strong funding behind it.
“I just hope that as we move forward we take a sincere look at mental health,” she said. “These bills are a start, but they surely aren’t everything that Iowans need right now.”
Meyer said she has made mental health care one of her priorities since her first campaign in 2018, when she said she heard from many constituents about the need for expanded mental health care services. She recalled talking to a young woman whose brother was an Iraq War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, turned to substance abuse and became homeless.
“And there’s so many stories like that,” Meyer said.
One of the four bills was scheduled for a subcommittee hearing — the first step in the legislative process — Tuesday afternoon, and a second will have its first hearing on Wednesday. Meyer said the others likely will have their first hearings next week.
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