One year ago, advocates for the most mentally ill residents of the Quad-Cities realized that formerly reliable state and federal funding for patient care had eroded to alarming levels.

So, for the first time in area history, six health providers from both sides of the Mississippi River collaborated on a shared mission and goals.

The next step taken by the new Quad-City Community Mental Heath Initiative came Tuesday when it issued a report titled "A Safety Net in Peril: The State of Public Mental Health in the Quad-Cities and Its Findings."

During a news conference at Community Health Care in Rock Island, Colleen Rafferty called for increased help for the mentally ill, from the public as well as from the business and faith communities.

Rafferty, who chairs the board of the Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health in Rock Island, said it makes sense for all health providers to pull together for the well-being of some of the poorest and most ill people in the Quad-Cities.

State funding for care continues to lag, said Jeff Lockwood, the board chairman for the Vera French Community Mental Health Center in Davenport. Six centers, designed like Vera French, have closed around Iowa in the past five years.

"The burden of untreated mental illness affects everyone," he said. "It destroys families, imposes a huge economic burden on businesses and decreases the quality of life for all."

After state mental health institutions closed in the 1950s and 1960s, much of the money continued to follow the patients, and agencies such as the community mental health centers were founded.

But more recently, those funds have moved away, and almost the only monetary stream left is from the Medicaid program, said Dave Deopere,  president of the Robert Young center.

"That's not enough money to allow a person to live," he added.

Chris McCormick-Pries, the clinical director of Vera French, said too many people have mistaken notions about mental illness. Some think it is a "faked" illness and still others think all of the patients are violent when the level of violent acts committed is actually lower than in the general population.

"We need to challenge the perceptions," McCormick-Pries said. "These folks are tortured human beings, and they have a right to be well. They have a right to receive needed services and to improve their quality of life."

She said treatment methods are very successful for those with mental illness. The appropriate levels of medication and therapy will help up to 90 percent of those who are treated, she added. 

There is not enough money at present for some pressing needs, identified by mental health providers as: transportation to medical appointments, support for medication and money management, and outreach services for those who need the help.

Vera French does provide some of those services, McCormick-Pries said, but they are limited. The only way to increase the services to more people is to have money to pay for them, she explained.

Therefore, the coalition will set up a public fund to form a special endowment for mental health services, Deopere explained. “Maybe there is a person, or a couple, who wants to make a generous donation and change the game in the Quad-Cities,” he said of the local needs.

The organizations collaborating on the initiative are Vera French Community Mental Health Center, the Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health, Community Health Care Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness of the Greater Mississippi Valley, Genesis Health System and UnityPoint Health Trinity.

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