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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 16, 2018

Hubbell hears from mental health specialists

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Jul 27, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Mental health care professionals from the area meet with gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell Monday at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Pictured are, from left at the table, Sandy Stever (Jefferson County Coordinator of Disability Services), Tracy Liptak (regional clinical director of Optimae LifeServices), Chris Estle (Jefferson County Public Health director), Becky Schmitz (former Jefferson County Supervisor and 30-year mental health professional).

A group of mental health specialists met with Iowa gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell Monday at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

The specialists gave Hubbell an overview of how mental health services work in the state, and particularly in southeast Iowa.

The roundtable discussion included Sandy Stever (Jefferson County Coordinator of Disability Services), Chris Estle (Jefferson County Public Health director), Tracy Liptak (regional clinical director of Optimae LifeServices), Becky Schmitz (former Jefferson County Supervisor and 30-year mental health professional) and Dee Sandquist (Hy-Vee dietician and Jefferson County Supervisor), among several others.

Stever said one of the biggest challenges she faces is having to fulfill unfunded mandates from the state.

“We’ve implemented a number of really good programs, but the funding is not there to start more services and expect them to be sustained,” she said.

Estle mentioned that her office has a certified Medicare/home care agency, and sees people with mental and physical health problems.

“The managed care organizations in Iowa have impacted patient care,” she said. “It’s unsettling to me as a nurse to see people struggle and need services, and yet they go unfunded. On the other side of the coin, you hear about how much money we’re saving. The patients need care, the providers need to be compensated, and we need to figure out how to make this work. Health care is not a political party.”

Stever said emergency room doctors are often the first line of treatment for those who suffer from mental health. Stever explained that the eight-county region Jefferson County is in, Southeast Iowa Link, has 10 bedrooms in crisis homes for people who can’t go to their own home but don’t need to go to a psychiatric hospital.

She said that events in the past week proved that the supply of beds is not keeping up with the need.

“This last week, eight people were seen in the emergency room just in Jefferson County. The 10 beds were all occupied, and some people had to be turned away,” she said.

Stever said the crisis home is to help a patient become more stable. No one can make them stay or go. Tenco staff help the patients find a job or a place to live. However, it is not a homeless shelter.

Estle said the key to making mental health work is paying the providers.

“No one can stay in business unless they’re reimbursed for their costs,” she said. “If you pay $20 at the gas pump, you get $20 in gas. Health care is not designed that way.”

A few years ago after the state implemented managed care organizations, Estle told then-Gov. Terry Branstad at a public forum that the program was not working well. Branstad told her that she didn’t like change, and she took umbrage at that because she feels that she deals with change every day.

Hubbell asked the group about whether there is an adequate number of psychiatrists in the region. Stever said several counties have them, and others have nurse practitioners with a psychiatric background who can prescribe medication. That said, she said the region could use more psychiatrists.

“In our Optimae office, they’ve done their best to avoid telepsych, because that’s so impersonal,” Stever said. “I’ve heard last week that they might have to expand to that, and that’s so disappointing.”

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