After years of bipartisan work, a bill that begins the process of reforming the mental health system in Iowa was signed into law.

To fill critical gaps in the system, the new law will allow more Iowans to access mental health services and also provides several new choices to patients and their physicians in determining what type of assistance they may need.

New access centers will provide immediate short-term assessments to people who do not need inpatient psychiatric treatment. Intensive Residential Service Homes are comprehensive, 24 hour facilities to coordinate community living services for persons with serious mental illnesses. Assertive Community Treatment Teams will provide flexible treatment for individuals who are transferring out of an inpatient program.

This legislation will also allow Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) regions to contract with transportation service companies to transport patients. Currently, patients are transported by law enforcement or an ambulance service, and by contracting with an outside vendor, it will free up law enforcement to do other important work. Mental health professionals will also be able to disclose mental health information to a law enforcement agent to prevent a serious threat to the patient or to others.

While the bill is a great first step to improving the system, many Iowans and lawmakers are concerned it does not include any additional investment from the state, causing a bigger strain on existing services and resources.

Instead of expanding the state’s investment in mental health, Governor Reynolds authorized a cut of $4.3 million from the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) budget. DHS is the agency that oversees much of this work, and they may have to decrease services to make up for the severe cut in their budget.

Also, the mental health regions are being asked to fund most of the bill without receiving any sort of financial assistance. In order to truly make meaningful and lasting changes to the system, it needs to be fully-funded. Next year, the House Democrats will continue to work towards finding solutions to these problems and move forward with funding the mental health system at a sustainable and adequate level.