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Supervisor candidates stress mental health services

BY KAITLIN DEWULF | MAY 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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Some officials argue regionalization may not be what’s best for mental health in Johnson County.
Cnadidates for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors discussed how to best handle the regionalization of mental-health services in a public forum on Monday.

The Johnson County Task Force on Aging hosted the forum in the Coralville Public Library, 1401 Fifth St., to give candidates an opportunity to answer questions presented by the voters.

In attendance were Supervisor Janelle Rettig, Mike Carberry, Lisa Green-Douglass, and Diane Dunlap, four of the five competing for the two available spots. Supervisor John Etheredge was absent.

A question that sparked passion in all of the candidates surrounded the regionalization of mental-health services by the state and what this means for Johnson County.

The regionalization mandated by the state teamed Johnson County with eight other counties — Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, Iowa, Jones, and Linn — to serve as a hub for mental-health and disability services.

Previously, mental-health services and funding were taken care of by individual counties.

Rettig said she has opposed the regionalization of mental-health disability services. The problem was not the management of the services, she said, but the funding. Through regionalization, she said she found the state is cutting programs.

“Already in the county leading up to regionalization, we’re finding that mental-health referees will be no longer paid for with mental-health dollars,” Rettig said.

She said mental-health referees move people along in the process in order to get them to the right place and don’t detain them when they shouldn’t. The state has never funded that service, so the county picked it up.

“We need to continue to lobby the state for funding,” Dunlap said. “The departments, on the county level, will not be handling the mental-health aspect anymore.”

Dunlap said that aspect concerns her, because there may be people who slip through the cracks who need the help.

“When it comes to mental-health-care systems in the state, I think this regionalization is a hot mess,” Carberry said. “It shouldn’t have happened.”

Mental health is likely one of the most important programs officials can fund, he said. Johnson County is likely to carry the nine-county burden, provide most of the services for the region, and go “in the red” doing so, he said.

Green-Douglass took a slightly different, and more optimistic, stance than the other candidates.

She said Johnson County has been a leader in mental-health services. What the supervisors need to do is look at regionalization as an opportunity to collaborate with other counties to pool resources, she said.

“Regionalization of mental-health services is a fact, and we may not have wanted it, but it’s there and we can’t undo it,” Green-Douglass said. “So what we have to do is make it work.”


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