The director of the Iowa Department of Human Services says a plan to redesign Iowa’s county-based system for delivering mental health services should also tackle a critical shortage of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. D.H.S. director, Chuck Palmer, says lawmakers acknowledge that Iowa’s shortage of psychiatrists is one of the most severe in the country.

“It’s the full range, we have acute problems, particularly in rural Iowa. We see it as a significant need and we have to take it on,” Palmer says. Palmer says the bill to reorganize the mental health delivery system includes a study of the shortage of the people needed to run the system.

“The legislature has built into the bill the creation of a workforce group that’s to look at the full range of providers, from psychiatrists where we’re 47th in the nation, to even building up more people trained in peer support,” Palmer explains. Providers say the shortage means a lack of access to mental health care in some parts of the state, especially rural Iowa.

Lawmakers say they’re optimistic they will reach agreement on their plan to standardize mental health care statewide and have the state pick up more of the cost.