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Gubernatorial hopeful Andy McGuire talks mental health with regional providers

The Hawk Eye - 12/14/2017

Dec. 14--MOUNT PLEASANT -- Dismay and frustration were common expressions on the face of gubernatorial candidate Andy McGuire as she listened to health care professionals describe their day-to-day struggles with Iowa's privatized Medicaid system.

McGuire, a Democrat from Waterloo who now lives in Des Moines, attended a monthly meeting Wednesday morning in Mount Pleasant of Southeast Iowa Link, a regional group of mental health care providers and local stakeholders in Des Moines, Henry, Jefferson, Keokuk, Lee, Louisa, Van Buren and Washington counties.

Her visit was part of a day spent in southeast Iowa listening to Iowans and meeting voters, including a stop at Revelations Cafe in Fairfield for a meet-and-greet.

Earlier this month, the physician and former Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman released a seven-point plan to reform mental health care in the state, detailed across 17 pages in a document called "Sound Minds, Healthy Bodies"

McGuire's plan includes expanding mental health support for children and teenagers; attracting more service providers; and increasing the number of psychiatric beds available for patients.

"Mental illness often begins at an early age," the document states. "Roughly half of those suffering from mental health issues begin experiencing symptoms by age 14.

"Yet less than half of these children and teenagers receive the help they need, and we are doing far too little in Iowa to reach these individuals at an early age and get them into treatment that will strike back at their disease," the plan continued. "This must change."

At the meeting Wednesday, McGuire heard a woman describe a child suffering from mental illness and physical health problems who could not properly be treated with limited resources available in Iowa.

"He's a citizen of Iowa," McGuire replied. "We need to have an option for him."

One woman said the waiting list for psychiatric services at University of Iowa Stead Family'sChildren Hospital was six months long.

Those at the meeting largely were concerned with the exit this month of AmeriHealth Caritas from Iowa's Medicaid market. Beginning Dec. 1, all Amerihealth patients were supposed to be situated with one of two remaining providers, UnitedHealthcare or Amerigroup. But based on the conversation Wednesday, the transition has been less than smooth.

Multiple individuals said their agencies were given email addresses from UnitedHealthcare and AmeriHealth to track the status of their patients, but when an email was sent to the address they received a reply stating that the Managed Care Organization was swamped and couldn't reply to their inquiries.

"We could probably continue this conversation on and on because there's too much to digest," said Ryanne Wood, CEO of Southeast Iowa Link. "But we certainly need to voice the concern on behalf of the folks that we know are no longer getting service and we need clarification of what is the new process so that people are not harmed in the transition."

McGuire was one of a dozen gubernatorial candidates to participate in the Des Moines Register's mental health care public forum last month, which attracted about 400 audience members, according to the newspaper.

"I think they're realizing, what's real personal to me, which is we have a real serious problem that's going the wrong direction in Iowa," McGuire said Wednesday of Iowans' interest in discussing the state's mental health care shortcomings. "We're 50th in mental health beds, we're 47th in mental health providers and like you heard here, we have turned our law enforcement into our first-line mental health providers. I think that's what people are seeing, is this system is really broken and it's hurting people."

On Sunday, the latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed McGuire with a 26 percent favorability rating when compared to other Democratic candidates Nate Boulton, John Norris and Cathy Glasson. Fred Hubbell, a businessman from Des Moines, had the highest favorabilty rating of 27 percent among opponents in his party.

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(c)2017 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

Visit The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa) at www.thehawkeye.com

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