Iowa’s children’s mental health system making progress, state official says

Iowa’s children’s mental health system making progress, state official says

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A state board for a children’s mental health system has been appointed and is in the process of developing administrative rules to ensure access to mental and behavioral health services to Iowa’s youngest residents, a Department of Human Services official said during a public meeting of the Iowa Council on Human Services Wednesday.

But the work is going to take time.

“The entire world does not change overnight,” said Rick Shults, division administrator of mental health and disability services for DHS. “It’s not a light switch, it’s a dimmer. The lights will come up slowly. It’s going to take time to develop.”

Shults updated the council members on the efforts of the Children’s Behavioral Health System State Board in Des Moines, the entity that has been tasked with the implementation and management of the Children’s Mental Health System.

Shults said the board will advise state officials on how to implement the system, but also will work with stakeholders on putting the system into place.

Each member of the board — which includes lawmakers, mental and behavioral health providers, and law enforcement, among others — brings a different perspective to the board, Shults said. For example, an official from the Iowa Department of Workforce Development who sits on the board can offer insight on how to increase the provider workforce.

However, the effort to ensure specific services are available and meet standards established in rules would be up to the Mental Health and Disability Services regions. Those are the 14 geographic bodies across the state tasked with monitoring services in their region.

Shults said the regions will be responsible for covering the cost of services for some young Iowans — specifically, children whose family income is at or below 500 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and is uninsured or underinsured.

Iowa’s Medicaid program also has set aside $423,110 in funding for the first year and $1.3 million for the second year of the program. The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency estimated the new system would cost Iowans nearly $3.7 million in fiscal 2020.

About a year and a half ago, an executive order from Gov. Kim Reynolds kick started an effort by an appointed board to “develop a strategic plan with specific recommendations to implement a children’s mental health system.”

Using the strategic plan from the board — called the Children’s System State Board — state lawmakers created and passed House File 690 during this past legislative session. The proposal not only establishes a comprehensive system, but also sets up accountability to a body tasked with ensuring access to an array of children’s mental and behavioral health services.

Reynolds signed the legislation into law this past May.

The Council on Human Services meeting Wednesday also marked the second public meeting for Kelly Garcia, the new director of the Department of Human Services. Garcia officially started her role on Nov. 1.

She has no specific agenda item at this time, she told the board, but plans to spend her first 30 days in office listening to stakeholders and understanding the state of affairs in Iowa.

“This is the opportunity for the lifetime for me and I hope and pray quite often that I have a sound mind to help change the way we deliver our services to Iowans,” she said.

Garcia took over the role following the abrupt departure of Jerry Foxhoven, who since has filed a $2 million wrongful termination claim against the state.

In the suit, he alleged he was wrongfully dismissed by Reynolds and her staff to prevent him from disclosing information on a funding decision for a position in the governor’s office that he believed was illegal.

Editor's note: The Council on Human Services meeting Wednesday in Des Moines marked the second public meeting for the new director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, Kelly Garcia. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated it was her first meeting.

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