Rep. Shannon Lundgren

The Iowa House has unanimously approved a bill to address some of the gaps in Iowa’s system for providing mental health care services and substance abuse treatment. Representative Shannon Lundgren, a Republican from Peosta, said it’s been “heart-wrenching” to hear from Iowans who’ve been unable to find “a clear path” to proper services.

“We’re making steps forward,” Lundgren said. “The work is never done, but today we can tell Iowans that mental health care matters.”

The bill primarily outlines new policies. For example, supporters believe a regulatory change will boost the number of spaces for patients who are not having an acute mental health care crisis, but who need still need residential care. The bill also seeks to relieve police of the duty of transporting Iowans suffering a mental health crisis. Patients instead could be transported by private services that have secured vehicles and trained drivers.

Representative Timi Brown-Powers, a Democrat from Waterloo who’s a nurse, is among a bipartisan group that worked on the legislation.

“This bill, we know, is not perfect. This definitely is a start,” Brown-Powers said. “We needed to start somewhere because we were in the negative zone.”

According to the National Alliance on Mentally Illness, the state has “consistently” ranked among the bottom five states in programs and services available to mentally ill Iowans. Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, noted the bill that passed the House primarily deals with mental health care services for adults.

“We still do not have that and the needs for that population are just as great, if not greater, than for our adult population,” Mascher said.

The bill calls for designating six “access centers” around the state where health care professionals are available to assess patients of any age who may not need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.