Officials brief lawmakers on Iowa mental health, substance use treatment overhaul

DES MOINES — Iowa’s top public health official says the governor’s plan to consolidate Iowa’s 13 mental health regions and 19 substance use treatment systems is “a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Iowa Department of Health and Human Services director Kelly Garcia spoke to legislators Tuesday. “I really do believe today…that we’re at a bit of a call to action moment. That’s true nationally,” Garcia said. “The need for behavioral health services is outpacing what every state really is able to give at this point in time.”

Under the governor’s proposal, seven behavioral health districts would be created. Marissa Eyanson, director of behavioral health at the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, also testified at a House committee meeting.

“Ultimately what we hear from many of our stakeholders is they are out there trying to do the very best work that they possible can, but find themselves tripping over each other because there’s a lack of clarity about, essentially, who’s on first?” she told lawmakers. “We can address that by building a comprehensive system that takes all of these pieces into account.”

State health officials say the new behavioral health system would get rid of redundancies, provide a clear way for Iowans to access services, and put unused funding toward unmet needs. The proposal is part of the state’s effort to reach a negotiated settlement to a class-action lawsuit that calls the state’s mental health care system for children “inadequate, inaccessible and dysfunctional.”