Government

Fred Hubbell presses for more mental-health money

Candidate looks to redeploy funds from tax 'giveaways'

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell talks with Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly (right) on Monday while his running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland, talks with administrators of Des Moines-based Broadlawns Medical Center at the start of a roundtable discussion of challenges facing Iowa’s mental-health system. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell talks with Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly (right) on Monday while his running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland, talks with administrators of Des Moines-based Broadlawns Medical Center at the start of a roundtable discussion of challenges facing Iowa’s mental-health system. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell said Monday he believes Iowa has the policy changes in place to improve and expand mental-health services but lacks funding to meet the needs under a GOP-authored budget.

“We know what to do to address youth-based mental-health issues as well as mental-health issues for our state. We just need to put the leadership and funding behind it,” Hubbell told reporters after meeting with Polk County elected officials, law officers and health care providers.

Roundtable participants at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines told Hubbell and his running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland, about collaborative efforts that have successfully dealt with Iowans battling mental health, addiction or other challenges and could be replicated statewide with adequate funding and proper reimbursements to providers now struggling within Iowa’s privately managed Medicaid system.

Steve Johnson, the county hospital’s behavioral administrator, said local officials work together to provide crisis intervention services for people in immediate need of help, housing or connecting with family members. The services could include up to 90 days of help in a crisis stabilization center. In the past, the options for people who are now assessed by police mobile crisis teams were emergency room visits or jail.

Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly said 2,600 calls this past year to those mobile teams were handled through the local crisis observation center and psychiatric urgent care offered at Broadlawns. Of those, 1,200 were “treated out in the field” by trained responders with a savings of about $5 million by avoiding taking them into custody or seeking emergency services.

“That’s real dollars, tax dollars, that are being saved because of the work that mobile crisis does out in the field,” Connolly said.

But enough state-level acute care beds for long-term patients are no longer available since former Gov. Terry Branstad closed two of Iowa’s four mental-health institutions, in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda, Hubbell said.

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Speaking to reporters after the roundtable, he said Iowa needs a substantive mental-health plan to invest in community-based treatment — including adding 50 to 75 long-term care beds. But he doubted they would be at the closed institutions, since those spaces have been converted to corrections beds.

He said he also has a plan that would establish a youth mental health system, invest in diversion and substance abuse programs and give counties the ability to raise levies now capped for mental-health services.

Hubbell said he would stop, cap or sunset what he considers “wasteful corporate tax giveaways” provided by the state. He said he’d redeploy the $160 million freed up annually for education, mental-health services and other unmet needs under GOP leadership.

Last spring, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed comprehensive, bipartisan mental health legislation designed to build on the state’s existing regional mental health approach and provide Iowans with access to the full array of mental health care they need, no matter where they live.

The governor also signed an executive order creating a Children’s Mental Health Board and providing what she said would be the first of many steps to establish a children’s mental health system in Iowa.

“Fred Hubbell can’t be trusted to protect Iowans, and his record on tax credits is terrible,” Reynolds’ campaign spokesman Pat Garrett said in a statement. “When he led economic development under the disastrous Culver administration, he gave away millions in tax credits with no strategy and no results. As a private businessman, he closed stores and fired workers while giving himself a $90,000 pay raise.”

Garrett said Reynolds “understands that there’s more work to be done” to see the new law and order through, “and will continue to advocate for Iowans who rely on this care.”

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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