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Linn County Rolls Out New Program for Children with Mental Health Challenges

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LINN COUNTY, Iowa - Children and families struggling with mental health diagnoses have a new program to turn to.

Linn County is among a select few counties rolling out the "Pediatric Integrated Health" program or PIH program. Tanager Place and Four Oaks are both offering it.

PIH is part of a state effort to fix the mental health system. It's designed for children who are on Medicaid and who have severe mental health challenges that cause issues in daily functioning.

Jared Hlas, 13, of Hiawatha, likes to play video games and has a goal of going into the military. Hlas knows he needs to finish high school first, but classes aren't always easy for him.

"I just have a really short attention span," Hlas said. "If I'm bored I just do something else."

Jared is diagnosed with ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and ODD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. About a month ago, his Aunt Kris Owens became his legal guardian when his mother died of cancer. She had a lot of questions about his care and decided to sign up for the new program.

"If you have a psychiatrist vs a counselor vs a doctor, that they can ... see all of that information to make sure that he is on all the right medications," Owens said.

It's all about coordinating care, which can be a daunting task for parents and guardians.

"Very often kids care is very fragmented," said Tanager Place CEO George Estle.

A big key is coordinating mental health care and primary care, to avoid any mistakes.

"So that everyone is talking to one another and it really makes the delivery of care more efficient because every provider knows what the other is doing," Four Oaks PIH Manager Sara Going said.

A team of people will work together for each family.

"We have RN nurse managers, we have BA level case coordinators, and we have peer support coordinators and those individuals make the team under Integrated Health," Estle said.

In the end, the hope is that kids like Hlas will grow up and lead successful lives. Four Oaks and Tanager Place have hired nearly two dozen people to run the program. They both are welcoming anyone in the community to call and ask questions about it.

Going said by July 2014, families across the entire state will be served by an integrated health program.

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