Plan to merge substance abuse treatment, mental health services passes first review

DES MOINES — A House subcommittee has approved the governor’s plan to create a statewide system that combines the regions in charge of mental health services with the regions in charge of providing substance use treatment.

Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, said the proposal would streamline services that have a lot of overlap and make it easier for Iowans to get help. “As part of our assessment work over the last seven months, we have heard from thousands of providers and they have told us our system is cumbersome,” Garcia said. “…This bill really does take a huge step forward to cure that issue.”

The proposed plan would go into effect July 1 of next year. Flora Schmidt, executive director of the Iowa Behavioral Health Association, told House members that timeline is a concern. “Our members are – they’ve got a lot of angst right now they just don’t know what it’s going to mean to their workforce, to their funding, and ultimately, their ability to maintain a continuity of services over the next 18 months,” Schmidt said.

Iowa currently has 13 regions that provide state and federally funded services for Iowans with mental health issues and intellectual disabilities. There are 19 regions in charge of government funded care for substannce abuse and gambling addiction. The governor’s plan creates seven districts that would each provide all those services.