Mental health system flaws tear Garnavillo family apart - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Mental health system flaws tear Garnavillo family apart

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GARNAVILLO (KWWL) -

Families throughout Iowa are suffering from flaws in the state's mental health system. It's why lawmakers voted earlier this year to redesign Iowa's mental health and disability services system.

Change, however, doesn't come quickly.

Todd Lange is the director of the office of consumer affairs, which plays a role in the redesign. He said there is a statewide shortage of treatment facilities as well as mental health professionals such as psychiatrists. That problem is especially pronounced, he said, in rural areas.

One eastern Iowa family discovered this firsthand.

Two years ago, a doctor diagnosed Garnavillo teenager Justice Crambeer with four mental illnesses, including severe depression.

"He's not a typical teenager," his mother Chris Schramel said Friday afternoon. "I wish he was and he wishes he was. You know, it would make life so much easier for all of us."

Last month, just days after his 18th birthday, Crambeer took himself to a hospital emergency room because he felt suicidal.

"These people have disabilities just like somebody with cerebral palsy or in a wheelchair. It's just not apparent, physically," Schramel said.

After going in and out of two central Iowa facilities that weren't right for his needs, Crambeer ended up a little closer to home. To Schramel, however, her son felt as far away as ever.

Crambeer, who has no criminal charges against him, spent nearly three weeks in the Clayton County jail, while officials tried to find a treatment facility with room for him.

"It's absolutely wrong and it's cruel to be treated that way, and it's cruel to see your loved one being treated that way," Schramel said emotionally.

A magistrate did find Crambeer in contempt of court in late September, after the 18-year-old left a court-ordered treatment facility in Ft. Dodge. That's what prompted the arrest and subsequent transportation to the Clayton County jail. The magistrate, however, did not pursue charges.

"We have to absolutely stop using jails as holding cells. Jails are not for mental health patients," Schramel said. "Mental health patients...need therapy, they need counseling, they need nursing staff 24/7."

Clayton County sheriff Mike Tschirgi said he agrees that a jail is no place for a person with a mental illness who has not committed a crime.

"He's supposed to be at a hospital, and we're not a hospital," Tschirgi said Friday afternoon.

In his more than 20 years on the job, Tschirgi said, he has seen an increasing burden placed on counties for mental health issues and not on the state.

Crambeer's situation isn't a regular occurrence, Tschirgi said, but the jail sees it occasionally.

While people like Crambeer wait for a facility, people like Schramel have their hands tied.

"He's trying real hard to be strong, but, like I said...he's been suicidal many times," Schramel said, wiping away a tear. "It's too much. You know, it's not what we as people should be doing to our mental health patients whatsoever."

All she is seeking is Justice.

Some good news finally came for the family. Friday afternoon, the Clayton County sheriff's office transported Crambeer to a residential treatment facility in Fayette, which had room for him.

His story, unfortunately, is not unique.

Lange said a work group will examine the shortage of mental health facilities and professionals in parts of Iowa. Members are expected to present their initial recommendations to the Iowa Department of Human Services in December.

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