Iowa Legislature looks to overhaul mental healthcare system - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa Legislature looks to overhaul mental healthcare system

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

An overhaul of the state's mental health system is taking center stage at the capitol. On Tuesday, the Iowa Senate approved a plan that would put into place statewide standards for mental care.

The Black Hawk Grundy Mental Health Center has helped more than 50,000 people since it opened in 1950. Over the decades this facility has seen a lot of changes. Tom Eachus is the Executive Director of the facility. Eachus says another change is needed because Iowa's current mental health system is out of date.

"We have 99 counties as of today and we have 79 different ways of funding and administering mental health services in the State of Iowa and that didn't make a whole lot of sense to anybody," said Eachus.

Last year the Iowa State Legislature started laying the ground work on how to fix the mental health system by getting rid of the county based system and dividing up into regions. There would be anywhere from 5 to 15 regions and each region has to operate in the same way.

"You've got some counties that are very rich in resources like Black Hawk, Linn, Johnson, Scott, and Polk. Then there are counties where you may have to drive an hour just to get to mental health service in the first place," said Eachus.

Both the House and Senate have created bills to address the state's mental health system, but it's the senate's proposal that has gotten the most traction.

Mental health advocates say the bills would also help the patients stay out of higher levels of care.

"At this point in time both bills hold some promise and I hope the political process and the individuals who have been spear heading this redesign that could make our state probably one of the leaders in the nation in terms of redesigning mental health and doing it better," said Eachus.

The proposal would cost $42 million in the first year, but the measure that was sent to the House doesn't include funding. Lawmakers say the debate over funding would happen later in the session.

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