United Way looks at Iowa’s mental health restructuring

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Iowa is overhauling the way it provides mental health care to communities. After recent national tragedies, the topic seems to be getting more attention these days.

But that can also mean some big changes for families. That's why United Way is helping parents to prepare.

In a complicated maze of medical care, Scott County families dealing with mental illness have more hurdles to leap.

"They would miss a whole day of school just to get to their counseling sessions," said Bettendorf parent Phyllis Hughes.

Missed school snowballs for two teenagers. It multiplies anxiety, depression and other problems.

"There's a lot of hurt and broken kids out there that really need some help manuevering through life," said Hughes.

One reason why United Way hosted a special forum at Genesis East on Friday. More than 100 care providers, parents and lawmakers attended the session.

As Iowa switches from a county to regional approach by 2014, it means a new way of thinking for spending and services concerning mental health.

"We have to wait for months to find a psychiatrist we can actually get diagnosed," said Davenport parent Rich Landis.

For Landis, the waiting and long commutes for help illustrate holes in the system.

"If you're not receiving services, you're a family out there in crisis," he said. "You don't know where to turn."

While families deal with these issues 24-7, everybody has a stake in the changes. That's why youth mental health is a top priority for United Way.

Iowa lawmakers are recommending that the state pump an extra $20 million to counties to ease the transition.

For Landis, a longtime special education teacher, it means money.

"The key message is that we need funding," he said.

They're asking Iowa lawmakers to invest more in mental health care. As Landis puts it, it's a case of paying now or paying ever more later.

"If we can get people into the system earlier, then the long term cost of these services will be reduced dramatically," he concluded.

For families, it will help to solve the maze for a better outcome.