County leaders share challenges of regionalizing MHDS services - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

County leaders share challenges of regionalizing MHDS services

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CEDAR RAPIDS (KWWL) -

Iowa is about to change the way it serves those with mental health issues and developmental disabilities. The Iowa legislature passed a reform bill last year looking to equalize services through regionalization. The changes come with some challenges.

The good news is service providers and state legislators agree that Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS)) in Iowa have been under funded for a long time.

"We are, I think, every day flirting with disaster by not funding the higher level services that people need," said Mechelle Dhondt, Linn County Director of Mental Health and Disability Services.

That's why the legislature passed MHDS reform last year.

"We're going to be able to provide better access to quality mental health and disability services in every county in the state," said Joe Bolkcom (D), State Senator. "The challenges are change is difficult and there are financial issues in this mental health system."

Instead of county-based services, Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, and Linn counties are regionalizing services.

At a forum Saturday many expressed concern with the new system, fearing the state won't fund the system properly. Counties have already had to reduce services and leaders fear what will happen if they cut more.

"Sometimes it's different medications, sometimes it's hours of service that a person receives," said Rod Sullivan, Johnson County Supervisor. "Some people can be completely cut off. None of them are good choices."

Linn County has had a waiting list for services for several months. Delaware County began a waiting list on Monday.

"We are very rural," said Peggy Petlon, Director of Delaware County Community Services. "Transportation has been a huge concern in our community. Just to get from one side of our county to another to get to an appointment is a lengthy process."

Legislators say counties have a chance right now to ask for money to cover their costs during the transition from county to regional services, but county leaders say they fear that still won't be enough.

There is time to work out the kinks. Regional networks for Mental Health and Disability Services must be in operation by July 2014.

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