May 21, 2024

State officials tout efforts to improve mental health care

DES MOINES — A top state official says Iowa is providing better mental health care after an overhaul of the system, though critics question the recent closure of two state-run mental health institutes.

Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer told an advisory board Wednesday that Iowa’s mental health system was serving more people and providing more modern care. The effort to remake the system began in 2011 and was implemented last year.

“The governor likes to say that Iowans don’t like change but they like progress. Hopefully we’re doing progress,” Palmer said.

Public and private services are now coordinated on a regional level, instead of by county. A tracking system has been developed to better understand the availability of psychiatric care beds. Palmer said there are about 700 such beds in the state in public and private facilities and he is assessing if there is a need for more.

Gov. Terry Branstad has been criticized for halting funding this year for two Iowa mental health institutes — in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant. Two other state institutes remain open.

A third former Clarinda patient had died recently after being moved to a private nursing home.

In a statement, Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom, of Iowa City, criticized the administration’s efforts, saying the closures have “made the system even more fragile and is resulting in premature deaths of some of our most vulnerable Iowans.”

Palmer offered his condolences to the families of those who had died. But he also stressed that state workers had strived to find good treatment options for people exiting the shuttered centers.

“I know that our people have been very active in the placement process and continuing to monitor the individuals that are placed,” he said.