SIOUX CITY | Woodbury County's request to join the Rolling Hills Community Service Region has left board members of the seven-county mental health region questioning whether the addition would be in its best interest.

With Woodbury County set to withdraw from the three-county Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services agency on July 1, it's far from certain a majority of the Rolling Hills counties will vote to accept Iowa's fifth largest county as a member.  At least two Rolling Hills counties have expressed strong reservations about the request. At an October meeting, some Rolling Hills board members raised questions related to finances, services and whether one or both of the other Sioux Rivers counties also might seek membership.

The state of Iowa in 2014 switched from a county-based to a regional method of delivering mental health services to low-income residents. The state calls such regions Mental Health and Disability Services systems, or MHDS regions.

Since its inception, Woodbury has been part of Sioux Rivers, which includes Plymouth and Sioux counties. Rolling Hills takes in seven smaller counties mostly east of Woodbury -- Buena Vista, Sac, Calhoun, Carroll, Cherokee, Crawford and Ida. Two other regions exist in Northwest Iowa. One, called Northwest Iowa Care Connection, includes six counties on the Minnesota border and in the Iowa Great Lakes region. Monona County is part of the Southwest Iowa MHDS, a nine-county region stretching south to the Missouri border. Neither the Northwest nor Southwest MHDS has shown interest in adding Woodbury, leaving Rolling Hills as the county's only viable alternative.

Rolling Hills CEO Dawn Mentzer said admitting Woodbury would require three separate votes --  one by the Rolling Hills governance board to forward the topic to the seven county boards of supervisors, a majority vote by those boards, then a final majority vote by the Rolling Hills governing body.

Mentzer, who is from Buena Vista County, said "it would be irresponsible to take" Woodbury without a proper vetting of how mental health programs might be impacted in the existing MHDS. Rolling Hills, she said, offers many services also provided in Woodbury County, and it will take further study to see if there are services in Woodbury County that might be extended to the seven Rolling Hills counties.

Official minutes from the two most recent Rolling Hills board meetings on Oct. 4 and Oct. 25 shows representatives from the seven counties plan to be methodical in vetting Woodbury County.

“The board discussed at length the concern that if we were to allow Woodbury County to join that we may be forced to take the remaining two counties; Sioux and Plymouth," according to the minutes from one of the meetings.

A poll of the seven Rolling Hills board members was taken Oct. 4 on initial thoughts on adding Woodbury County. Crawford County representative, Cecil Blum, said his stance was "no." Neil Bock of Carroll County said his reaction was not favorable, but that subsequent research ahead could change that.

At least one board member, Dennis Bush of Cherokee County, raised questions about the possibility of not only Woodbury but Plymouth County joining the region, and his concerns for the financial health of the Rolling Hills region, if that happened.

Rolling Hills board chairman Rick Hecht, of Sac County, noted talks are very preliminary and the question of whether Woodbury County will be invited to join the region is an open question.

Mentzer said she has no position on whether Woodbury should be allowed to join. She noted the region has performed well connecting residents with services.

"We've got a very well functioning region," Mentzer said.

Woodbury County's recent notice that it planned to withdraw from the Sioux Rivers region came after after years of disagreements that began sometime after the agency was formed in July 2014. Sioux and Plymouth county representatives on the Sioux Rivers board voted against Woodbury's formal request to leave the region at the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor has said the machinations between Woodbury separating from Plymouth and Sioux counties could result in a lawsuit, or perhaps the less extreme step of arbitration.


County and education reporter

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