Winnesheik Medical Center in Decorah, Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waukon and Central Community Hospital in Elkader have been chosen for a pilot project that seeks to provide better emergency mental health care--at a lower cost.
Under the current system, people with a mental health crisis or substance abuse crisis are taken to inpatient mental health centers in the state. Usually that means a trip to Waterloo, but it could also mean a trip to Dubuque or even as far away as Sioux City. The transportation is usually handled by sheriff's deputies, which not only is expensive, but often means the patients are handcuffed. Usually the people taken to the inpatient mental health centers are required to stay there for three to five days for observation.
The pilot project being conducted by Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health (NEIBH) will provide funding to pay for 23-hour mental health respite beds at the three hospitals. The pilot project also includes counseling by "peer support specialists," people who have had similar mental health issues in the past, but have been able to find ways to resolve those issues.
The purpose of the pilot project will be to screen out those who are facing less severe crises and take care of them locally. NEIBH officials think perhaps a quarter of all the people now taken to inpatient mental health centers from Winneshiek County might be able to get help locally instead.
The pilot project is just getting underway at Winneshiek Medical Center. It will run for two years. NEIBH officials and State of Iowa officials hope the pilot program, if successful, could be expanded to the rest of Iowa.