The Iowa State Health Facilities Council needs all five members to show on July 20.
Twice, the Tennessee-based Strategic Behavioral Health has come before the Facilities Council seeking permission to build a 72-bed mental health facility. Twice, unable to muster a full five-member complement, the Facilities Council has been deadlocked. SBH's executives are hoping to get a decisive vote this time around.
State slogans about "business-friendly" regulation might sound good, but a process that has dragged out for two years without an up-or-down vote makes that ring hollow.
The uncertainty caused by the Facilities Council's ineptitude has damaged the community, its existing health care providers and a would-be private investor.
One way or another, it’s imperative that Facilities Council members actually make an appearance and end this.
The battle over SBH's $14 million proposal has divided the Quad-Cities. Scott County and police officials support the firm's plan, citing a county jail serving as an ad-hoc holding site for the mentally ill. The area's two hospitals — Genesis Health System and UnityPoint Health — fervently oppose it.
Both sides are collecting supporters and leveraging all possible political capital. Everyone involved is pouring cash into lawyers and travel. And, locally, SBH’s bid continues to unnecessarily divide the community.
It's a protracted bit of divisiveness that should have ended more than a year ago, when SBH first appeared before the state regulatory body.
Last year, SBH officials even canceled an appearance at another Facilities Council meeting because they knew all five members wouldn't show up. And yet, SBH is coming back. The firm must still think there's a need for more beds in the Quad-Cities and money to be made. It's an assertion Genesis and UnityPoint officials reject.
During testimony at the last Facilities Council meeting on this issue, Genesis argued that its expansion -- which entails devoting 36 in-patient beds to behavioral health patients and 24 more to become available in October -- is its way to meet the needs of the community.
UnityPoint Trinity, meanwhile, said its Robert Young Mental Health Center’s integrated care model is helping to reduce the need for hospital beds.
In testimony, the hospitals argued their plans would be jeopardized because Strategic would cherry-pick the most profitable, privately insured patients.
It's a question that should be decided by a collection of bureaucrats beholden only to a measure of clinically cold objectivity. But, so far, the Facilities Council has proven incapable of serving its most basic function. Its five members can't even gather within the same room, only bolstering the view that the Certificate of Need process is unnecessary and redundant.
The lack of a ruling isn't just bad for SBH. It's also patently unfair to Genesis and UnityPoint. Both have invested heavily in mental health of late. Both do have a financial interest in SBH's proposal. But, like everyone else, the Facilities Council has left them in the lurch.
The Facilities Council didn't cultivate the mental health crisis in the Quad-Cities. Lawmakers are the ones who have been unwilling to pony up the cash so local government can carry its end. Gov. Terry Branstad made the call in 2015 to shutter a pair of state-run mental health facilities. It was state officials who heaped the responsibility on Iowa's counties but, at the same time, hamstrung any ability to pay for it.
But the statewide problem persists. Just recently, Mahaska Health Partnership hospital in Oskaloosa announced the closure of its in-patient mental health unit, reported The Des Moines Register. It's just the latest in a string of closures straining local governments and affecting the quality of life of Iowans.
The Facilities Council didn't create the mental health crises. Yet it has done its part to exacerbate the issue in the Quad-Cities simply by not showing up.
Once is understandable. Life happens.
Twice is symptomatic of a system either incapable or unwilling to serve its function.
Three times would be evidence that, by its very existence, Iowa State Health Facilities Council does more harm than good.