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FOREST CITY | State legislators representing Winnebago and Hancock counties answered questions on mental health, the Iowa Tuition Grant and other topics during a forum at Waldorf University Friday.

Julienne Friday, a psychology and sociology professor at Waldorf, asked what the legislature will do to provide more community-based care for those with severe mental health issues.

"Schizophrenia is not something that is going to be stopped with a brief stay in some intermediary facility," she said.  

Friday said she knew one young woman who couldn't get the help she needed and eventually committed suicide.

"That broke my heart," she said. 

Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, said the situation regarding mental health treatment in Iowa is "a big, sticky mess at this point." 

However, Guth said the chairman of the health and human services committee in the Iowa Senate is putting forward bills to solve some of the problems.  

Friday also asked about the privatization of Medicaid in Iowa, which she called "a disaster."

Rep. Terry Baxter, R-Garner, said Gov. Kim Reynolds acknowledges mistakes were made when her predecessor, Terry Branstad, privatized Medicaid.

"I hope we can turn the corner on this," he said. 

Heidi Hansen, director of Duncan Heights, Inc. in Garner, which serves those with mental health issues and intellectual disabilities, said the organization's financial solvency is in jeopardy because funding is being refused for 24-hour care even when it is court-mandated. 

In September 2016 the organization's residential care center closed when the last of the residents moved out in accordance with a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that people with disabilities have a right to live out in the community rather than in institutions. 

The residents were moved into supported group homes in the community.

However, the state is slowly cutting the 24-hour care that some of those individuals can't get along without, according to Hansen. 

"They need the support in their homes to stay safe and to stay healthy," she said.

Managed care organizations for Medicaid require justification for 24-hour care for each individual, but case managers don't look at their history beyond the last 30 days or so, according to Hansen.

This means the MCOs don't take into consideration issues -- such as behaving in a sexually-inappropriate way toward others in public -- the individuals had longer ago than a month, she said. 

"It's dangerous for them. It's dangerous for people in the community," Hansen said. 

She also noted the MCO case managers often live in other areas of the state and aren't as familiar with the people as Department of Human services case managers, who are more likely to live in the same communities they serve. 

Rep. Tedd Gassman, R-Scarville, said one way to improve the situation would be to put those with severe disabilities in a separate pool so they can have case managers from DHS.  

Iowa Tuition Grant

Waldorf President Bob Alsop said university officials learned in July that the amount of money Waldorf students receive from the  Iowa Tuition Grant was being reduced from $2,800 each to $1,200.

The Iowa Tuition Grant is a financial aid program for in-state students attending private colleges and universities in Iowa.

Alsop said Waldorf, which became a for-profit institution in January 2010 after more than a century as a private non-profit college, was put in the same Iowa Tuition Grant funding pool last year as professional institutions such as cosmetology schools. 

When the funding for that pool was reduced, it meant Waldorf students received less in Iowa Tuition Grant money than those attending private colleges such as Luther and Wartburg that are non-profit but are otherwise similar to Waldorf.

Alsop said one legislator he spoke to thought Waldorf was "a storefront in a mall" and didn't know it's a liberal arts college with athletics and renowned musical performance groups. 

Gassman said Waldorf being classified with cosmetology schools is "a bunch of malarkey." He said he will ask to have Waldorf put in the same pool as the state's other private colleges.

Alsop noted Waldorf is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, which involves an extensive review by the U.S. Department of Education to ensure quality and integrity.

Duane Polsdofer, director of financial aid at Waldorf, suggested all private colleges with this accreditation. whether they are non-profit or for-profit, all be put in the same pool for the Iowa Tuition Grant.

Backfill 

Barb Smith, city administrator for Forest City, asked the legislators to protect the property tax backfill -- payments cities and counties receive from the state to help compensate for a 2013 commercial property tax cut.

Smith said small, rural communities will be particularly hard-hit if the backfill is eliminated because they aren't experiencing the massive growth of more urban communities such as Waukon and Ankeny. 

Gassman said both he and Baxter have "made a fuss" in the Iowa House about not eliminating the backfill, but there's been a lot of turnover in that chamber since 2013.

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