Improving Mental Health Services

Improving Mental Health Services

“Safer Together Program”

As Mayor, Jack Hatch will address the urgent mental health care crisis that has been ignored in Des Moines. In the Iowa state legislature, Jack Hatch authored the expansion of Medicaid, created the Community Health Collaborative Network, and successfully led the effort to expand healthcare coverage to 30,000 kids. As mayor, Jack Hatch will address the urgent mental health care crisis that has been ignored in Des Moines.

Background: Six years ago, I lead the Iowa Senate effort to reorganize the state’s mental health services.  By regionalizing the state’s funding and increasing the local governments’ mental health professional capacity, we knew we were moving in the right direction. 

Today, most of these services are managed by Polk County.  They are doing a great job but there are not enough resources to deal with all the issues mental health is now involved. 

Because this is viewed as a county issue, most people don’t think the city has any responsibility.  They are wrong. And we can do so much more in providing real services to our residents.

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a comprehensive study on how cities across the country are being challenged by a growing number of calls for service involving people who have mental health needs.

Increasingly, officers are called on to be the first—and often the only—responders to calls involving people experiencing a mental health crisis. These calls can be among the most complex and time-consuming for officers to resolve, redirecting them from addressing other public safety concerns and violent crime. They can also draw intense public scrutiny and can be potentially dangerous for officers and people who have mental health needs. When these calls come into 911/ dispatch, the appropriate community-based resources are often lacking to make referrals, and more understanding is needed to relay accurate information to officers. As such, there is increasing urgency to ensure that officers and 911 dispatchers have the training, tools, and support to safely connect people to needed mental health services.

More often, the person ends up in jail. Across the country, jails hold 10 times as many people with serious mental illnesses as state hospitals, according to a recent report from The Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit that lobbies for treatment options for people with mental illness.

Create a special DMPD Mental Health Unit

Proposal:  Without access to appropriate alternatives, our residents are not getting enough help.  As mayor, I will do the following:

  • Create a special unit in the police department, Mental Health Unit of the Des Moines Department, MHPD unit, comprised of police officers with mental health experience and background.  The effort will focus on an idea called “smart justice” – basically, diverting people with serious mental illness out of jail and into treatment instead.  It is possible because all the players in the system that deal with mental illness — the police, the county jail, mental health department, criminal courts, hospitals and homeless programs – pooled their resources to take better care of people with mental illness.
  • Invest in comprehensive, city-county partnership to create greater coordination on all mental health services.
  • Establish a stronger behavioral health relationship between law enforcement and mental health professional services and faith based organizations, sometimes known as police-mental health collaborations (PMHCs) by sharing evidence based practices.
  • Expand our Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) – co-responders and mobile crisis intervention teams.
  •  Designate ‘mental health’ officers in our neighborhood watch programs. Their main focus will be to integrate law enforcement responses to people who have mental illness into the day-to-day functions of all officers.

Police Officers, the Fire Department and Paramedics are often left with a set of difficult choices: leave people in potentially harmful situations, bring them to hospital emergency departments, or in some cases arrest them. Des Moines can do better.

Provide Youth Crisis Services

Background:  When we passed the landmark mental health legislation six years ago, we did not include child mental health services, however, successive legislation required the newly established mental health regionals to institute a plan for servicing children before 2020.  In Polk County, several service providers formed “Reach Out”, a youth crisis support organization.  In their recent report, they stated:

When it comes to youth-focused mental health services, Polk County, like many other regions (in the state), suffers from a troubling gap.  The trouble being that there are currently no crisis support organizations forced on serving our youth.”               

Proposal:  As mayor, I will eliminate this gap by taking the lead in establishing the services reported in the “Reach-Out” list of recommendations:

  • Create a 24 Hour Crisis Line that will receive calls from kids and adults and dispatch appropriate police and mental health mobile units.
  • Provide care coordination for the immediate 24 – 48  hour, 7 days a week for up to 30 days.
  • Provide de-escalating issues for youth and their entire family and create a plan that addresses safety.
  • Establish a treatment plan for the youth and family with appropriate community service providers.
  • Interface with our schools
  • Incorporate strong coordination with hospitals and private physicians.