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Providers & Participants Still Wary of Mental Health Service Cuts

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - People who both provide and depend on mental health services are still uneasy about the state's move to a regionalized system of providing care.

Last year, lawmakers voted to provide mental health services by grouping counties into regions instead of the current county-by-county basis. The state is currently in the process of figuring out how the regional system will work and how to provide funding until it takes effect in mid-2014.

One example of the funding shortfall is the Anchor Center opened by the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services in Cedar Rapids. The building opened in 2008 and there's room for 26 inpatients. The idea was to provide treatment space for those in custody or on probation or parole who needed mental health services. But the state never provided funding the approximately one and a half million dollars a year needed to staff the inpatient wing of the approximately $4-million dollar building. Right now, staffers use it to store odds and ends which could possibly make it some of the most expensive closet space in the county.

Rob Metzger, treatment services manager for 6th District Correctional Services, said it's tough to have a useful facility that can't be used. "It is frustrating. Much as anything, we see examples of people in the community who have been incarcerated because unfortunately we didn't have the services for them—services we could provide here at the building," Metzger said.

Mental health providers and some who depend on those services joined State Senator Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) for a noon hour meeting Friday to discuss what lawmakers might do in the upcoming legislative session.

One participant was Kay Fisk who directs Neighborhood Transportation Services. Fisk said one of her group's programs that uses cabs to give mental health services participants rides to work and school is jeopardized by the cuts in funding.

"We're good and solid in 2013. But beginning in 2014, we're dead in the water," Fisk said. Fisk emphasized the funding shortfall only impacts the cab service, not the regular transportation program.

Sen. Hogg reminded participants it's important to keep up the pressure to insure lawmakers provide enough funding to keep services going. "We've got to step up as a state and say we're not going to reduce services," Hogg said.

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