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Democrat Fred Hubbell said Monday the state should partner with the private sector to add at least 50 to 75 in-patient mental health beds in Iowa, part of a plan he released to change the way mental health services are provided in the state.

Hubbell, one of seven Democrats running for his party's nomination for governor, released a four-page plan Monday, a day ahead of a forum on the topic in Des Moines.

Hubbell also said he would reverse last year's move to turn management of the state's Medicaid program over to private management and institute a review to determine "the most cost-efficient program that provides the necessary services." All of the Democrats running for governor have criticized the change.

Hubbell, who recently toured the state to talk about mental health issues, said it is a topic that comes up wherever he goes and the state must do better.

"Iowans are paying a high human cost and also high financial costs because of the inadequacies of our mental health system," he said. Hubbell blamed "fiscal mismanagement" under former Gov. Terry Branstad and Gov. Kim Reynolds, as well as the decision to close state-run mental health institutions.

Hubbell cited a study saying Iowa is last in the nation in the number of state-run mental health beds. And his plan called for "at least 50-75 high-intensity mental health beds for in-patient treatment in a public/private partnership."

There were no other details provided.

Iowa Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven has defended the state's approach and said the focus on in-patient mental health beds is shortsighted.

Reynolds also has questioned how Democrats will be able to pay for a Medicaid program that goes back under the state's management.

Part of Hubbell's plan also dealt with the shortage of behavioral health providers. He said the state should put more effort into programs like loan forgiveness to lure professionals to the state.

The plan also would more closely coordinate services for mental health and addiction; "empower" local communities to determine their own needs and provide a range of services; encourage more utilization of tele-psychiatric services; create a mental health program for children and provide more help to law enforcement to deal with the opioid problem and incarceration diversion programs.

In response to Hubbell's plan, the Reynolds campaign responded that 150,000 more Iowans are getting mental health coverage than in 2011, when she became lieutenant governor. Also, the campaign said the number of inpatient psychiatric beds have increased since 2016 and so have investments to try to entice behavioral health professionals to the state.

"There's more to do, which is why we are focused on concrete solutions and progress to help Iowans in every corner of the state," said Pat Garrett, a spokesman for the Reynolds campaign.


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