OPINION

Impacting access to affordable healthcare: Mental Health Services

Staff Writer
Story City Herald
Impacting access to affordable healthcare: Mental Health Services

—by Sara Wilson, UWSC Marketing Director

Last column, we introduced United Way’s health focus, and we reiterated how important access to affordable healthcare is for our community. Over the next four weeks, this column will focus on what United Way of Story County (UWSC) and partners are doing to ensure Story County has access to essential services for healthy lives.

UWSC is collaborating with local mental health professionals to address the growing needs. The Story County Mental Health Criminal Justice Task Force, composed of individuals from across mental health, law enforcement and other community organizations, is working to improve the system-wide response to mentally ill individuals.

The task force’s vision is to bring about increased awareness and recognition of the mentally ill to ensure people receive the services they need, to provide better transitions and to ensure compliance with case plans and to address crisis situations more effectively and efficiently. The task force identified the need for individuals living with a mental illness to have a place where they wouldn’t be isolated, a place where they could go to socialize, learn new skills, set goals for a healthy lifestyle and reach out to help others who are also in their situation. A team of representatives visited mental health wellness centers in Iowa to see how other communities fill this need for persons with mental illness.

UWSC took the lead on exploring the possibility of establishing a wellness center in Story County. Using UWSC Endowment funds, a pilot program began in August 2011. The Mental Health Wellness Center, operated through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Central Iowa, has been very successful. More than 200 individuals come to the center each month. Because of the tremendous success, ASSET funders now support the wellness center through annual allocations.

The method and payment of delivering mental health services has undergone a major reform by the state of Iowa the past several years. Story County is now part of a nine-county region, called Central Iowa Community Services (CICS).

According to CICS, there are at least 450 individuals living with a mental illness in Story County. In the 2010 needs assessment study, almost 20 percent of Story County residents reported having had two or more days a month when they felt depressed or sad on most days. Almost nine percent reported they had been diagnosed with major depression by a physician at some point in their lives.

CICS is committed to improving health, hope, and successful outcomes for the adults in our region who have mental health disabilities and intellectual/developmental disabilities, including those with multi-occurring issues and other complex human service needs. The newly formed region has representatives from each of the counties serving on the administrative team. The state has identified services that need to be in place in all regions, including the existence of a wellness center as one of the core services. Story County is fortunate that this program is already part of the community.

In addition to health, UWSC also focuses on education and income – the three building blocks for a good quality of life. We know we can’t do it alone, so we recruit people and organizations who bring passion, expertise and resources to make positive change. We invite you to be a part of the change. You can give, you can advocate and you can volunteer. That’s what it means to LIVE UNITED.