Mental Health service in Washington County facing financial trouble

WASHINGTON — Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) serving Washington County is facing financial difficulties, according to Bobbie Wulf, who presented a quarterly update to the Washington County Supervisors on Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Washington County Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) is the local access point for Southeast Iowa Link (SEIL), a Mental Health and Disability Services Region serving the counties of Des Moines, Henry, Jefferson, Keokuk, Lee, Louisa, Van Buren and Washington. Wulf is one of the six the Coordinators of Disability Services in the SEIL Region who serves Washington and Louisa Counties.

A primary concern of MHDS is the impact of legislation passed by the Iowa Legislature to shift administration of the Children’s Behavioral Health System from the Department of Human Services at the state level to MHDS and the other mental health services regions as of July 1, 2020. While the legislation mandated the transfer of services to the regions, it did not provide any funds to support the regions’ efforts to fulfill those mandates.

The legislation dictates that the regions provide services to children with serious emotional disturbances.

Wulf told The Union there is concern that with legislation to expand the adult service array and the designation of MHDS Regions responsibility to administer the new Children’s Behavioral Health System, there are insufficient funds available to develop and sustain the expanded service array for children and adults. At present, MHDS Regions are funded solely from county property taxes.

She said the legislative direction of regions to provide administration and/or financial service support to children with serious emotional disturbances may be compromised at best because of this financial circumstance and could certainly fall short of the intent of the bill. Wulf told the Union that some of these children have insurance and some do not. Some of the services mandated are covered by insurance and some are not. MHDS has until April 1 of 2020 to submit a transitional plan to the state indicating how it plans to meet the needs of these children. There is no known database in place to determine the number of children meeting this specific diagnostic category or need for service that the region will be responsible for. Wulf said she and her team are working with partners such as schools, AEAs, public health officials and other behavioral health providers to try to determine the population of children that have need to be served.

Wulf said with the increased workload and service delivery cost resulting from the new state mandates, it’s likely that her budget requests to the counties in the region will increase going forward.

Another challenge facing the agency is a critical shortage of mental health professionals in the region and across the state which sometimes results is the agency referring clients to professionals or facilities outside the region.

The quarterly report submitted to the supervisors showed the 2019 fiscal year budget for the agency was $827,183 of which $825,031.91 was spent leaving a balance of $2,151.09.

Supervisor Jack Seward said the work of MHDS is “complicated and challenging. Bobbie is to be commended for her time and effort,” he said in paying attention and determining what services people need and directing them to the proper providers.