OTTUMWA — A study bill in the Iowa Senate concerns the Wapello County Board of Supervisors, as board vice chair Jerry Parker and supervisor Brian Morgan spoke about how the bill could impact the county during Tuesday's weekly meeting at the courthouse.

The bill, which is SSB 1234, is still working its way through a sub-committee, and details substance abuse and mental health procedures. There are changes in the bill, namely how an "access center," which is a place to provide help with those services, without a patient needing a psychiatric hospital, would be staffed.

Throughout the bill, words such as "examining physician" and "examining physician assistant" pop up. Parker and Morgan are worried about where funding for that would come from in this area, considering the Southern Iowa Mental Health Center is an access center with neither of those.

"This bill is making the requirements of an access point almost as strict as if it was a hospital," Parker said. "They have to have physicians on staff, assistant physicians and all that. And that's an impossible situation to do because it is totally cost-prohibitive."

Morgan, who sits on the board for the facility, said something would have to be given up if the state required access centers to be staffed in such a way.

"It's easy for the legislature to say that they did something, when all they've done is created a lot more red tape for counties," he said. "It really just comes down to another time when they tell counties what they have to do."

The Southern Iowa Mental Health Center, which offers several mental health and substance abuse services, doesn't have a full-time physician on staff, Morgan said. The staff consists mainly of therapists and does have prescribers who can offer medication. However, the facility doesn't have the power to issue court-ordered confinement.

"This is another situation where the legislators are trying to do a feel-good thing," Parker said.

Morgan and Parker are concerned about how any staff physicians would be funded. Parker sits on the South Central Behavioral Health regional board, which consists of Wapello, Mahaska, Davis and Appanoose counties. Each year that board has provided grant funding to Southern Iowa Mental Health to keep operations running.

"We're already at the highest we can levy taxes for mental health," Morgan said. "If we keep doing that, then we're going to have to decide what is no longer valuable enough to maintain. So if you get rid of say, jail diversion, which can keep inmates out of jail if they take medication and keeps our correctional officers safe, is that worth the $200,000 or so that it might cost for a doctor at an access center?

"Is that going to make us better?"

In other business, the supervisors:

• Set the date for a public hearing to approve the fiscal year 2022 budget for March 23 at 9:30 a.m.

• Approved of a change order to the rooftop air conditioning units at the Wapello County Law Enforcement Center. The cost increase of $4,400 is for five-year warranties for compressors in each unit. If one fails but falls outside a one-year warranty, it would cost between $3,000 and $4,000 to replace, said City of Ottumwa engineer Dwight Dohlman.

"Since we're at the beginning of this project, we're asking the manufacturer to give us a five-year warranty," Dohlman said. "They will try to give us the best compressors we have. Even if they do, you can bet one will fail. If that's the case, this will be money well spent."

— Chad Drury can be reached at, and on Twitter @ChadDrury


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