Iowa Mental Health Advocates Applaud Signing of Bills

Iowa Mental health advocates turned out in force for the March 28 signing of two important bills recently passed unanimously by the Iowa Legislature — complex needs (HF 2456) and teen suicide prevention (SF 2113). Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bills in the Rotunda of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

“We are excited about the significant progress these bills represent in improving our mental health system,” said Peggy Huppert, executive director of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Iowa. “They’ve both been a long time coming. To see them pass unanimously and be signed on the same day is thrilling.”

Exactly one month before the bills were signed (February 28) leaders from three leading Iowa health care organizations held a press conference in the Capitol rotunda 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 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.”

HF 2456 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.

SF 2113 requires K-12 school employee training and protocols relating to suicide prevention and the identification of adverse childhood experiences and strategies to mitigate toxic stress response. Advocates agree it is a good first step toward improvements in school-based mental health education and awareness.

“Our legislators and governor can be proud of the way they represented Iowans to create this law,” said Steve Baumert, President and CEO of Methodist Jennie Edmundson in Council Bluffs and Chair of the Iowa Hospital Association Board. “Our legislators were united on this issue, just as Iowans have been united and clear that 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. This law makes real progress toward addressing those needs.”

The head of the Iowa Medical Society, a psychiatrist, echoed the importance of this progress on mental health services.

“I fight daily 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,” said Dr. Joyce Vista-Wayne. “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.”

The governor has supported passage of both bills. “I am grateful to the Iowa Legislature for sending these important bills to my desk,” Gov. Reynolds said. “They are a strong step to improving compassionate care for all Iowans.”