This article originally appeared in the Des Moines Register on April 22, 2017:
Closing mental health institutions has created anger, fear and disgust — and rightly so. Most important, it has created a desire to provoke change.
We want those hospitals open, right? Well, no. Here’s the thing: De-institutionalization is not bad. The missing piece? Community mental health services.
These agencies work with patients in their own homes, support them to get jobs, pay their bills and manage their mental health symptoms. They are also there if a crisis arises to keep the patient and others safe. These are the people that need funding. But they are slowly disappearing and their staff are not being paid livable wages.
While hospitals were being cut, no one noticed the community providers were discharging patients and trying to provide services in unrealistic and unsafe environments, because our Medicaid privatization attempted to save some money and made supporting folks with mental illness unmanageable.
There is at least one bill in the Iowa Legislature that could help with community providers. One is House File 172, which would provide funding to lift the waiting list for people that need services, and the other is Senate Study Bill 1187, House Study Bill 194 which would allow counties to equalize their property tax levies from the amounts that were established in 1996.
So instead of just talking about the institutions, put that talk in action. Make some calls. Write some emails — those legislators are there for a reason.
-Melissa “Missi” Hirsch is a MSW student at the University of Iowa in Des Moines. She is interested in mental health, and works in direct service at the Polk County Jail. Missi plans to continue working in corrections and the criminal justice system after graduation.