Loebsack facilitates local discussion on mental health care


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With increasing turmoil regarding school safety and mental health following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, one local congressman held a forum in hopes of creating a dialogue on improving Iowa City and Iowa’s mental-health programs.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, listened to health care professionals and members of the University of Iowa College of Education at a forum held at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics on Wednesday, as they suggested ways to better mental-health programs in Iowa.

“I’ve done everything I could to draw attention to the issue,” Loebsack said regarding his interest in spreading mental-health awareness.

Loebsack was expected to speak at City High to teachers, administrators, parents, and students, but the event was canceled because of inclement weather.

Among other topics, attendees voiced desire to implement telemedicine, providing health care from a distance, throughout the state and to increase funding for such programs.

Realizing that funding is limited, Jennifer McWilliams, a UI clinical assistant professor of psychiatry, said the state needs a unique, sustainable program that provides mental health care, and psychiatric telemedicine would do just that.

“It’s a cost-efficient way to achieve access,” Loebsack said.

James Potash, the head of the Psychiatry Department at the UI Hospitals & Clinics, said 80 percent of Iowa is rural with scarce psychiatric resources, and it is important to offer psychiatric treatments over the phone or online.

“Telepsychiatry is a way to reach [the rest of the state],” he said, noting that psychiatrists densely populate only two Iowa cities: Iowa City and Des Moines.

But Potash doesn’t want to stop at the state level. Through the Establish a Network of Health-Advancing National Centers of Excellence for Depression¬† Act, he believes mental-health experts could collaborate to help people on a national level.

“It would allow us to extend expert care,” he said.

What Potash describes as a “shovel-ready program,” the act would create a nationwide community of excellence in psychiatry, and telepsychiatry would be a key element. Officials said the next step would be to obtain funding for the program.

While Loebsack could not make any promises for funding at Wednesday’s roundtable meeting, the congressman has a personal investment in mental-health issues.

“It’s been an issue that has taken a lot of our attention and our concern,” Loebsack said about him and wife Terry, who is a former second-grade teacher.

Having grown up with a mother who suffered from mental illness, Loebsack has an intimate knowledge of how mental illness affects a person.

“I try to do what I can on a personal level and while I’m in Congress,” he said.

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