"We have to band together" - mental health region hopes to move forward as a team

"We have to band together" - mental health region hopes to move forward as a team

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Lori Elam

Lori Elam, CEO of the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disabilities Service Region, speaks with the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors.

DAVENPORT — In a press release announcing that the Iowa Department of Human Services had assigned Muscatine County back into the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services Region, CEO Lori Elam stressed her hope to put the last several months in the past so the region counties can work together to move forward.

With plenty of issues facing the region coming up — including the unknown impact of COVID-19 on area mental health, new mandates, and the never ending issues with funding – she asked the members of the governing board to put any hard feelings between counties in the past for the good of the clients the region is helping.

“We have to work as a unified front – we have to band together,” Elam said. “Even the DHS (Department of Human Services) director said the region has to come together and figure out how to best serve everybody, especially with the crisis going on. There is no end in sight to this pandemic and we’re going to see even more people in need.”

Elam said she and Muscatine County Supervisor Jeff Sorensen, the county representative on the region’s board of directors, had a discussion. She explained he had sent an email asking that she let him know if there are any problems or if the county needs to be doing something different.

In November 2019, Muscatine County had submitted a letter to the region indicating its intent to leave at the end of the fiscal year on June 30, citing financial mismanagement. Muscatine County had attempted to join the South East Iowa Link (SEIL) mental health and disability services region and were twice denied. The county had submitted a letter to the region board of directors asking the original letter be rescinded. The second letter was rejected by a 2-3 vote. DHS then assigned Muscatine County back to the Eastern Iowa Region.

Elam said the four-county budget that was approved by the governing board, which didn’t include Muscatine County, is being changed to reflect Muscatine County’s inclusion. She said changing the budget will not result in additional expenses for the region. The governing board will have a conference call to vote on approving the five-county budget once it is complete.

During the March 30 meeting in which the Muscatine County letter was rejected, governing board chair Ken Beck had commented he voted against approving the letter because he felt Muscatine County had made it clear it would prefer to be in SEIL. He said Thursday that since the decision had been made he hopes to be able to move on.

“We are going to start off as if bygones are bygones and move forward,” Beck said. I really have the confidence that the governing board will continue to operate the region efficiently and Muscatine County will be part of that partnership. There will be some fences that need to be mended, but I think everybody will move forward to the most vulnerable and those in need of services can get them as best as we can provide them.”

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