Iowa county can’t pay for mental health services

PRIMGHAR, Iowa (AP) — A northwest Iowa county says it has run out of money to help dozens of people with psychiatric medication and counseling.

O’Brien County leaders said they’re tapped out because Iowa is shifting to a new system and Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed $13 million that legislators approved to help counties make the transition.

“Plain and simple, we’re out of money,” county Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas Farnsworth told The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/14NPP4I ).

Farnsworth said under the old system, counties financed much of the care for their residents, even if those people moved to other counties. That arrangement ended July 1, and counties now are responsible for the costs for everyone living within their borders.

That created a hardship for O’Brien County, which has solid residential facilities for the mentally ill that have attracted dozens of people from outside the county.

It prompted officials to tell the Seasons Center for Behavioral Health, which provides most outpatient mental health care, that the county wouldn’t pay for its services.

Seasons Center Executive Director Kim Scorza said the center served 532 people in O’Brien County last year. She said the agency, which is based in adjacent Clay County but has a facility in Sheldon, is deciding what to do with its O’Brien County clients.

“We can’t provide services for free,” she said.

Farnsworth said O’Brien County had been counting on the $13 million approved by legislators to make it through the transition until the new system begins on July 1, 2014.

Linda Hinton, government relations manager for the Iowa State Association of Counties, said other counties also hoped to benefit from that state funding, but O’Brien County appears to be in the worst situation.

When asked for comment, Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht released the same statement he’d made two weeks ago when a Cedar Rapids legislator complained about the situation in Linn County.

Albrecht said a new federally funding program would cover many mental health services for low-income people next year and reduce demand for county services. The state also has spent more than $115 million in new funding for mental health services at the county level, he said.

Those expenses made the “additional $13 million state funds outside the best interests of hardworking taxpayers at this time and were vetoed from the bill,” Albrecht said.

Rick Shults, a mental health administrator for the Iowa Department of Human Services, said his agency was working with O’Brien County on the issue and he was optimistic major cuts could be avoided.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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