The Ottumwa Courier

October 3, 2012

Mental health dollars shrinking ... but so are property taxes

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Your property taxes may go down, but so could support for some residents with a mental illness.

Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel explained that the Iowa mental health system “redesign” will probably mean the county must reduce how much it spends helping pay treatment costs for low-income patients.  

Counties levy up to $80 to provide services to residents. In Wapello County, that amount is $68 per thousand dollars of valuation.

The state is telling counties they must lower their levies to $47 per thousand dollars of valuation.

And with communities being put into regions that share a pot of money, there may be a push to reduce the amount spent on non-essential  items currently being paid for. The state defines psychiatric medication, for example, as non-essential.

During a Wapello County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, the county Central Point of Coordination director told supervisors her office will be taking a more active roll in determining who gets resources.

In fact, reported CPC Jennifer Vitko, starting immediately, her offices will be the place to go to apply for county assistance for mental health services. Previously, those who used mental health services and needed help paying would be directed to Southern Iowa Mental Health in Ottumwa.

There, the staff would complete the necessary forms. Now, those wanting county assistance will go directly to the county. The CPC office is around the corner from the mental health center — both are in the Wapello Building on Main Street.

For many mental health patients, little will change. The main difference, Vitko said, is that applications will now be reviewed using “MH/DD” Definitions, mental health disability rules approved by the county and the state of Iowa.

She may also need to ask questions that clients weren’t asked in the past, like income of a significant other. The questions are designed to determine who qualifies so those with the right qualifications are served.

There may be a few residents who do not qualify now but did in the past. But some of them, perhaps, should not have been receiving funding anyhow.

Supervisor Jerry Parker said the good news is, those people won’t be required to pay back funding used to help pay their psychiatric bills last year.

Vitko said with changes at the state level, CPC will have to tighten their belt in order to keep providing services for those in need.

“We don’t really have a choice,” said Siegel. “We have to follow the statute. Past [officials] may not have had a [full] understanding of how [the rules applied], but we do understand, and we have to follow them.”