Mercy doctor says state mental health system is 'broken'

Published: Mar. 15, 2017 at 5:28 PM CDT
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Dr. Alan Whitters is the Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. Dr. Whitters believes Iowa is in the midst of a mental health epidemic. Dr. Whitters says there are too many people who are seriously ill and not enough resources to properly treat them.

One of the main issues is Iowa doesn't have enough beds to treat the population. The mental illness focused non-profit, Treatment Advocacy Center says a minimum of 50 beds per 100,000 people is necessary to provide, "minimally adequate treatment for individuals with severe mental illness" but Iowa, they report, only had 2 beds per 100-thousand last year. Compared to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Iowa ranks dead last.

With few places to turn, those seeking treatment often end up in hospital Emergency Departments like the one at Mercy.

"Right now we have 29 main beds and this weekend seven of those beds were taken up with psychiatric boarded patients," said Dr. Aucutt. "when you're seeing 55,000 patients a year that's a significant impact."

State run treatment institutes are hard to find in the Hawkeye state, there are only two. One is in Cherokee, the other is in Independence.

Dr. Aucutt thinks, more funding is the only one way Iowa is going to fix the status quo.

"You have to increase funding for outpatient care," said Dr. Aucutt.

TV9 reached out to Governor Branstad's office for comment about these mental health concerns. They in turn sent us the following statement;

"Mental Health is always going to have its challenges, in every state in the country. And a lot of the credit for the progress we have made goes to the professionals, advocates and family members that work and deal with mental health. At the state, we are focused on delivering mental health care services in more modern ways than ever before, closer to home.

Before our mental health care redesign, Iowans were treated in 19th century warehouses. The goal of our mental healthcare redesign is to provide modern community-based mental health care services that treat Iowans with dignity and respect. Iowa’s mental health system is serving more Iowans in more modern ways with better services than ever before. Over 150,000 Iowans now have mental healthcoverage through the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan which is providing greater access to patient-centered mental healthcare. Additionally, local and state governments have invested $2.1 billion on mental health care services since 2013. We also have a bed tracking system that shows we have at any time between 60 and 100 mental health beds open across the state. Recently, Iowa was ranked a top-10 state for Mental Health Care, a jump from being ranked #13 in 2011."

TV9 shared the ranking provided by the Governor's office with Dr. Whitters who said in response, "I don't believe it."