Mental Health Advocates Hold Event at Iowa Capitol

Leaders from three major Iowa health care organizations held a press conference in the Iowa Capitol rotunda today to call attention to the urgency of and progress on mental health legislation in the Iowa Legislature.

Representatives from the Iowa Hospital Association, Iowa Medical Society and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Iowa joined forces to draw attention to an online petition that has garnered nearly 5,000 signatures ( They also referenced a recent Iowa Poll that showed that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Iowans believe that our mental health system is in crisis (35 percent) or a big problem (38 percent). Only nine percent said it is “working just fine.” The next two most important public policy issues in the poll were water quality (38 percent believe it’s in crisis or a big problem) and K-12 education (37 percent).

The governor and legislators are listening. Yesterday the Iowa House passed HF 2456 on a 98-0 vote, and the governor has voiced her strong support. This bill enacts into law the recommendations of the Complex Needs Workgroup along with other mental health system improvements related to civil commitment. It is a wide-ranging and substantive bill that will significantly improve Iowa’s mental health system when implemented. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. The Senate Human Resources Committee passed a similar bill (SF 2351) several weeks ago.

Advocates, providers and law enforcement officials have been united on working toward significant action on mental health this legislative session. NAMI Iowa Executive Director Peggy Huppert observed that veterans of the issue say they’ve never seen this much interest and willingness to act.

“It’s quite extraordinary for a significant policy bill to pass unanimously out of a chamber,” said Huppert.  “This isn’t just window dressing. It will improve people’s lives. Its passage shows that we’ve reached a tipping point on this issue. Mental illness affects tens of thousands of Iowans, and they’ve raised their voices in unison to say more must be done.”

Steve Baumert, President and CEO of Methodist Jennie Edmundson in Council Bluffs and Chair of the Iowa Hospital Association Board, said this: “As the thousands of signatures on this petition attest, Iowans are ready for improvement. They want a mental health care system that meets their needs close to home and keeps people who need treatment from languishing in emergency rooms and jails. They are vocal about this, they are united and they expect progress this legislative session. This is a great opportunity for our leaders at the Capitol and the passage of House File 2456 out of the House is a very positive sign. I sincerely hope legislators and the governor will see this petition as an invitation and affirmation of what we all know our state needs and deserves. But there is still much work to be done.”

The head of the Iowa Medical Society, a psychiatrist, echoed the need for legislative action to assure a continuum of care for all Iowans.

“Iowa’s behavioral health system is broken,” said Dr. Joyce Vista-Wayne.  “As a physician, I fight every day to ensure my patients receive the highest quality care possible. As a psychiatrist, I fight to navigate a fragmented system that fails to connect Iowans in need of mental health and substance abuse treatment, with the appropriate level of care in a timely fashion. The recommendations of the Complex Service Needs Workgroup represent a long-term, sustainable path forward as we look to better integrate physical and behavioral health, expedite care delivery, and position physicians and mental health professionals to deliver care in a setting that meets the individualized needs of our patients.”

Passage of the Complex Needs Workgroup recommendations bill is the number one legislative priority of the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association. Marion County Sheriff Jason Sandholdt appeared at the press conference and offered his strong support for the legislation.

“Iowa law enforcement officers know how badly this is needed,” said Sandholdt. “We deal with people with serious mental illness every day. Unfortunately jails have become the mental health treatment system of last resort. And none of us believes that’s the way things should be.”

Mary Neubauer and Larry Loss of Clive lost their 18-year-old son, Sergei, to suicide last September. Since then Neubauer and Loss have become vocal advocates for more and better mental health services for both children and adults. Neubauer had this to say at the press conference:

“As Iowans, we pride ourselves on being caring, compassionate people. But my son’s story shows that those dealing with serious mental illness don’t have time to wait. Right now, there are Iowans who need help and many of them tragically are not finding it. This isn’t the way that we, as Iowans, take care of our friends and family who are suffering from an illness.”