Reynolds talks substance abuse at Keokuk ADDS

Governor hustles to Burlington stop after being pushed on reaction to Trump conviction by reporter

Media representatives question Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, center, and Kelly Garcia, the director of the Iowa Dept. of Health and Human Services, Friday at the ADDS center in downtown Keokuk. The two were in town for a private roundtable on mental health and substance use disorders.
Media representatives question Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, center, and Kelly Garcia, the director of the Iowa Dept. of Health and Human Services, Friday at the ADDS center in downtown Keokuk. The two were in town for a private roundtable on mental health and substance use disorders.
Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

KEOKUK – Just months after the Lee County Health Department conducted a countywide survey of substance abuse disorders, Governor Kim Reynolds and other state officials made a quick trip to Keokuk Friday for a round-table discussion on one of the state’s most pressing issues.
Reynolds, with Iowa Department of Health and Human Services director Kelly Garcia in tow, met with other county and state officials at the Keokuk Alcohol, Drug and Dependency Services facility in downtown Keokuk.
The discussion part of the forum was closed off to media. Representatives of Reynolds’ office who organized the meeting told media they had to wait outside the room where the discussion was being held, including Iowa Public Radio, WGEM and KHQA television outlets, and Pen City Current.
Following the 70-minute roundtable, the Governor made a few short remarks about her visit and then brushed by media visibly frustrated after a few questions from Iowa Public Radio about the fetal heart beat law and whether she would call a special session to craft legislation if the law is struck down.
Iowa Public Radio’s Zachary Smith pressed the Governor on that issue before she got to comments about the forum. He also pressed her about comments she had made on the Donald Trump court convictions in New York City and asked if she now doesn’t trust the U.S. Court system.
“It’s a sham. Everybody knows that and I think the people of this country know that. It needs to be equal justice across the board and I think justice should be blind and I don’t think that’s what we’re seeing and I think the majority of Americans would agree,” she replied.
On the fetal heartbeat low, she said she wanted to wait to see how the Supreme Court was going to handle the issue.
“We're going to wait and see what we hear from the Supreme Court. I remain optimistic. We called a special session, and in that session, we got more votes than the first session so we’re gonna wait and see what happens,” the governor said.
Reynolds then moved the brief Q&A with media back to the topic of mental health and substance abuse.
“I would hope that you would cover that because it’s important what we’re doing in the state. We worked really hard to align the rural health system. There is a tremendous need in the state of Iowa and this agency is working diligently to take a look at the system as it exists today,” Reynolds said.
She said the state needs to streamline the system and reduce duplication and overlap, and make sure dollars are getting on the ground and into communities that need the services.
“We had a wonderful conversation and want to make sure we include all the stakeholders so we put in place a system that works for them and meets their needs and that starts with our providers on the ground,” she said.
Prior to the forum, the governor toured the ADDS center at 928 Main Street and then moved to a meeting room that was closed to everyone but ADDS staff, Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber and staff, State Sen. Jeff Reichman, State Rep. Martin Graber, and Reynolds’ staff.
Weber said he was concerned about the consolidation despite the fact that he felt the state had done a good job with consolidation of the Public Health and Human Services division under Garcia.
Weber said he asked Reynolds if she’d found a rural program for mental health services that is successful and the governor said they hadn’t and that’s what they were doing here.
Weber has been at the front of trying to bring attention to the needs of those with mental health and substance abuse issues. He held a meeting on Friday with several county officials helping direct the county’s portion of opioid settlement funds including Supervisor Tom Schulz who heads up the county’s opioid fund committee.
That committee has created an application process of opioid settlement funds that will be rolled out after its approved by Lee County Supervisors.
The Friday meeting focused on a potential pilot program that could potentially be funded with opioid settlement money to provide initial funding to get people needing treatment into a facility outside the area that has a track record of success.
Weber and county officials are considering touring a facility out of the state to explore potential partnerships. He said right now people who need treatment are being turned away because their options are jail or a hospital.
“That’s all we have. We’re failing these people. MHI was closed down probably 10 years ago and that was a mandatory 30-day stay. Now our options are to run them to Sioux City. That’s almost six hours away,” he said Friday.
Weber discussed the possibility of being able to use opioid funds to help those struggling with opioid and other substance abuse disorders to get good candidates in conjunction with Lee County Drug Court administrators.
The governor said the work being done across the state is exciting and long overdue, and she was proud of the legislature and Garcia’s work on the ground.
“It overwhelmingly passed with bipartisan support and in the divisive environment we work in today, how wonderful is it that legislators and parties can come together and put people first and identify a system that will benefit them,” she said.
Reynolds appointed Garcia in 2019 to lead the state’s social services agency, but then was asked to serve as interim public health director toward the beginning of the COVID emergency and oversaw the state’s handling of the pandemic. She then led the Governor’s transition to a single structure consolidation into the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services.
"Of course the resounding message is we need services here in our community. We know what’s best for our community and give us a chance to do that,” Garcia said.
“That’s absolutely our intention with this design and change.”
In May, Governor Reynolds signed a bill consolidating the state’s 32 mental health districts into just seven. Reynolds characterized the previous system as disconnected and the new system, which also includes substance use disorder services, as more efficient.
“It’s to make sure we’re getting the right dollars out to communities.”
Garcia said the roundtable brought to light a very strong relationship that’s been built between ADDS providers and local law enforcement, as well as personal stories from people with lived experiences.
“Certainly hearing from people on the ground about the way they're solving complex issues and hearing from individuals with lived experience always brings additional information back to the way we’re thinking about bringing dollars out,” Garcia said.
“And here, what I heard today is a phenomenal partnership with law enforcement and the work that’s done here that we could absolutely replicate across the state. That’s our intention and that’s why we we're here today.”
Graber said the big takeaway was that the governor was asking how does the state make it work at a granular level.
"What do we do to make this work at the ground level? That's the big thing. They don't have an agenda or an ulterior motive. They're not trying to build a kingdom, they want to make sure the Department of Health and Human Services works for the people," he said.
"What's exciting is they're looking at Medicaid being able to pay for some of these services and we can use our money elsewhere."
He said the state wants to build a model and they want to know what is working in the field and referenced the good relationship between ADDS and law enforcement.

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