Mental Health Discussed At Legislative Town Hall
Editor’s Note: Due to the length of this article, it will publish in two parts. Please read part two in Thursday’s Democrat.
On Saturday, March 3, 2018 a legislative town hall meeting was held at the Iowa Welcome Center in Emmetsburg. Members of the surrounding communities were invited to asking questions of Iowa Congresswoman Megan Jones, Iowa Senator David Johnson, and U.S. Congressman Steve King. As this meeting was so close to the school shooting in Parkland, FL, mental health and gun issues dominated the meeting.
Mike Hermansen of Emmetsburg stated that he was reading about the Eldora Boys Home in an article from the Des Moines Register. “Reading through the article, there is a full-time psychologist, there’s not a psychiatrist,” Hermansen stated. “The full-time psychologist, but he’s not licensed, and that’s okay in the boys’ home. And we talk about mental health, mental health, mental health, which is very important, but we don’t have a licensed psychologist? Why is a license not required for that, and yet, you have to have a license to cut fingernails and toenails?”
“I’m not familiar with the situation that you’re describing, but I think that you bring up a really important issue,” Congresswoman Megan Jones responded. “I sit on the Administrative Rules Committee and in that committee all of the professional licensure boards have to come to us with their proposed changes. I think a lot of us were surprised at the number of licensures we have in the state. And you’re exactly right- you have to have a license for this, but not for this.”
Jones went on to state that a bill had been introduced last year regarding licensure, but it was a bill that failed very quickly. These licensure boards often aren’t responding to complaints correctly or quickly, and Jones believes that there is definitely room for change.
“One of the main arguments that people in the GOP have been saying, guns are not the problem- it’s people, it’s mental health. But something that, as a young person, I’m very aware of is the lack of mental health funding in the state of Iowa, and really around the United States, it’s very stigmatized,” Andrew Dunn of Spirit Lake said. “What are you guys in favor of in terms of commonsense gun legislation? And what are you guys in favor of in terms of improving our mental health system?”
“We passed a bill out of the house earlier this week on mental health reform and I think it’s a very positive step,” Jones responded. “Funding is the issue, of course, but I think next to education, mental health is going to be the biggest priority that we have when it comes to money this year. What this bill does, it creates these short-term access centers, because we’re having a lot of people that are either sitting in a hospital or sitting in a jail, and that’s not the appropriate place for them. So if we can have these short-term access centers, it’s a more appropriate setting to get them back on their feet  we need to address the issues that they’re having at that point-in-time rather than making them sit in jail.”
Jones proceeded to answer the second part of Dunn’s questions regarding guns, “The governor said, I think very eloquently earlier this week that a holistic approach. So we need to look at school security, we need to look at our gun laws, we need to look at age restrictions. Because there’s a lot of multifaceted approaches here,” Jones stated.
“I’ve watched this thing for a number of years going the wrong direction on mental health,” U.S. Congressman Steve King began. “One of the things that I just take us back to the 90s when Bill Clinton was president. They made an effort to get people out of the institutions and out onto the streets. One of the things that facilitated that were the pharmaceuticals that had been developed to help stabilize people who were otherwise unstable.”
King went on to discuss some information that he had received regarding the Cherokee Mental Health Institute. He knew of a person that worked as a psychiatrist at Cherokee. When this psychiatrist went to work there, the institute had 354 patients and 14 psychiatrists. Now, according to King, the institute only has one psychiatrist and roughly 36 patients.
“I’ve been reading material over the last several years about mind-altering drugs that are being administered to people who turn out to be violent criminals,” King continued. “And so when I saw this thing unfold down in Parkland, Florida, one of the first things I did was we need to go back, and we need to review all of this, pretty much what Megan just said, from beginning to end. We need to examine everyone of these mass killings, especially in the schools, but everyone of these mass killers, and I want to know what were they on for drugs.”
King explained that in the last half of the decade, he has noticed pharmaceutical companies coming in and signing a non-disclosure agreement that gets a lid on it and goes in a “timecapsule.”
“So we don’t know what all the facts are here with this. We do know that the shooter in Florida  that he had bought 10 guns in the last year,” King stated. “He was going to use something for a gun. He was going to kill somebody. It looks like every system has failed along the way.”
King shared a story of his dinner with Captain Sully. He said that when there is an airplane disaster, the FAA throws blame out the window and proceeds to check every link in the chain. All of the weak links are fixed.
Congressman King’s son looked up the history of school shootings. “He found the first one in 1940, was a pistol in Pasendena and five people killed. The next one was all the way up ’til 1966,” King explained. “And that was the tower shooter  that killed 17 people with a bolt action deer rifle. And then you go forward quite a ways, and maybe into the 80s, and now we’re seeing them about every year on average. So the frequency has gone up a lot. What does that sync with? Prayer in the public school in 1963. 1966 shooting in Texas. I don’t know that you can equate those, but it makes me ask the question. Because is guilt, and is conscience, and is the pouring out of our faith in our public school system across America, is that a factor? I’ll have to examine that and say ‘I think so.'”