Address the emergency

March 28, 2014 | 8:54 pm

Gazette Editorial Board

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Cheers to five state senators who want to make sure critical mental health and disabilities services remain available as a new statewide system redesign is implemented.

The four Democrats and one Republican are asking Gov. Terry Branstad to reallocate existing funds from the Department of Human Services budget — its high risk pool — and possibly from other agencies.

While we have supported the redesign’s intent to ensure that an adequate level of services is available statewide instead of varying greatly by county, it’s increasingly clear that the plan is not covering some critical needs in the short-term. As we wrote in our Sunday editorial, titled “The right number of beds,” the closing of the Abbe Center for Community Care in Marion is one of the troubling signs that some of the people most at risk to themselves and others because of their mental illnesses are at higher risk of not being served. There are reports of growing waiting lists in several counties.

The situation should concern all Iowans. And that’s why, after the governor’s early summer veto of an appropriation intended to help fill those service gaps during the redesign transition, the funding alternative proposed by Sens. Wally Horn, Rob Hogg and Liz Mathis, all of Cedar Rapids, Brad Zaun, Urbandale, and Jack Hatch of Des Moines must be taken seriously. If the governor uses his authority soon, and we hope he does, it can reduce the time needed to put assistance in place. The length of wait can make a huge difference to patients with chronic or other severe problems, and their families.

The proposal also would have the DHS, the state’s risk pool board and the Iowa State Association of Counties develop a process for each county to document what financial assistance is needed to maintain those critical mental health services. They also want that process to not adversely affect other DHS services, and would ask the full Legislature to address the overall situation when it convenes in January.

This emergency situation warrants at least a temporary bridge of support, until the full effects of the redesign are known.

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