Health

Region boosts support for children's mental health care

Plan calls for quick help at schools and more collaboration

Erin Detterbeck (right) and Angie Trenary, on-call counselors with Foundation 2 Mobile Crisis Outreach, retrieve bags as
Erin Detterbeck (right) and Angie Trenary, on-call counselors with Foundation 2 Mobile Crisis Outreach, retrieve bags as they arrive to a call Feb. 12 in Cedar Rapids to assist an individual having panic and anxiety at work. Foundation 2 for years has also provided mobile counselors to respond to schools. Under a new regional mental health plan, the nonprofit expects to increase the pool of on-call counselors available for schools. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Financial support for deploying mobile crisis counselors to schools and paying professionals for at least some of their time collaborating on a child’s care are among the hallmarks of a regional plan for improving children’s mental health services.

The children’s behavioral health plan — adopted last month by the East Central Region — provides $370,000 to expand children’s mental health services in the nine-county region in fiscal 2021 starting July 1. The area includes Linn and Johnson counties.

Iowa is divided into 14 mental health regions, and the counties in them impose property taxes to support their proportional share of the region’s levy. The levy is assessed to each landowner in the county based on population.

“If done right, it will allow for a really cohesive approach for parents to access services for their children,” said Emily Blomme, chief executive officer of Foundation 2, a nonprofit agency in Cedar Rapids that offers mobile crisis services among other social services. “It’s my hope it will work to create a continuum of care ... for children and families.”

The additional funding from the mental health region for children will help providers like Foundation 2 continue providing mobile crisis services free to the clients.

Foundation 2 has responded to crisis calls to schools for more than five years. Calls for help usually are made by a teacher, school counselor or administrator.

Foundation 2 defines a crisis as any time a person’s usual coping mechanisms are no longer effective, Blomme said.

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“I don’t tell you what a crisis is in your life. When someone feels like they need additional support, that would be when we step in,” she said.

The mobile crisis help is a 24/7 service. At Foundation 2, providers are paid to be on call, then paid a higher rate if dispatched to a crisis.

Blomme said funding for children’s mental health will help the organization increase its pool of counselors available for mobile crisis services.

“If you’re breathing, we will serve you. That’s pretty uncommon in this day and age,” she said.

During the 2019 Iowa legislative session, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law House File 690, which established a statewide mental health system for children under 18, but did not provide state funding for it.

Plans for how regions would implement a children’s mental health system were due April 1. This region’s plan includes creating a Children’s Behavioral Health Services Advisory Committee, early intervention, education, medication prescribing and management, and prevention.

Funding for mobile crisis services for children and staff time for providers are two additional benefits the East Central Region is providing that it’s “really proud about,” East Central Region Chief Executive Officer Mae Hingtgen said.

“The intent of mobile crisis is to de-escalate something happening right now and get the child back on track so they’re calm and ready to learn,” Hingtgen said.

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Some payments will be made to mental health professionals, such as therapists, counselors or psychiatrists, for time spent collaborating with each other on treatment. The plan allows providers to bill two 15-minute units each month for a child.

“There are a lot of mental health practitioners who spend their time talking with other providers, schools and parents and they’ve never been reimbursed for it,” Hingtgen said. “I know it’s a small number of units, but here’s where we’re starting. We want to have seamless care for children.”

Linn County Supervisor and regional board member Ben Rogers said mobile crisis services for children is a “win.”

“Mobile crisis is the best value for dollars spent in terms of deploying resources to people. They don’t have to go to a hospital or clinic. Mobile crisis will go to them,” Rogers said.

Even so, Rogers said, the state needs to commit to “long-term, stable funding” for mental health services.

“We’re losing psychiatrists because of Iowa’s almost rock bottom Medicaid rates,” Rogers said. “There’s not nearly enough funding. Now you add a national pandemic that is impacting providers, that has decimated the workforce and depleted a lot of revenues for local governments.”

If you or a someone you know needs mental health services, call or text the Foundation 2 crisis line at 1-800-332-4224.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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