CEDAR RAPIDS — One of the state’s strongest voices for Iowa’s most vulnerable population has been silenced.
Rhonda Shouse, who died Saturday due to health complications, was a staunch advocate for mental health issues in Iowa and a sharp voice on the state’s transition of its Medicaid program to three private insurers. She was 49.
Those who knew her described her as a fearless individual who was willing to talk about her struggles with mental illness, testify before the state legislature on behalf of Medicaid beneficiaries and work to make sure the viewpoints of Iowa’s most vulnerable were heard.
“We’ll miss her voice,” said Teresa Bomhoff, chairwoman of Iowa’s Mental Health Planning Council.
Bomhoff worked with Shouse on the council — comprised of 33 people who assess the adequacy of the mental health system as well as advocate for those with mental illness and their families — for nearly a decade.
“She was always a very rational, practical voice,” she said. “And someone who was always there that you could depend upon.”
Shouse was from a family with a long history of mental health problems, said her daughter Alexandra Moeller. Growing up, her family didn’t discuss their issues.
“She fought hard to break down the walls of that stigma,” she said. “When it came to her own mental health, she wanted to use herself as an example — ‘This is how my life is, and if I can help someone see it’s OK or draw inspiration then I will.’”
Shouse was stubborn and independent, Moeller said. A single mother, she raised Moeller and her younger sister, Cynthia Shouse, teaching them to ask questions and play Devil’s Advocate.
“She always did everything she could do to make things great for us,” Moeller said. “But she didn’t sugarcoat things, we knew what was going on. She protected us like a mom should and sheltered us when we needed to be sheltered.”
Because Shouse was so willing to speak publicly and openly about her mental health struggles, Moeller said she worries people will assume that was what lead to her death.
“She had her ups and downs, but this was definitely an up moment in her life,” she said. “She had two grandkids, and we all loved her so much.”
Shouse, a former reporter at The Gazette, was the driving force behind a Facebook group for the state’s Medicaid beneficiaries and providers, and she herself was a Medicaid beneficiary. She did not create the group, but under her leadership, she was able to turn the group — with nearly 2,500 members — into an easily accessible resource with the latest news and updates.
She also helped organize multiple trips to the statehouse from Eastern Iowa, finding donors to fund transportation and meals for Medicaid enrollees so they had the opportunity to speak with legislators.
“I think her legacy for sure is her leadership on the Medicaid issue,” Bomhoff said. “She is who you would want as an advocate — she always persevered and she didn’t give up.”
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A memorial service is set for 4 p.m., Friday, March 31, at the Hiawatha Community Center. 101 Emmons St., Hiawatha.
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