In less than a week's time, the public in northwest Iowa went from being surprised by the sudden closing of addiction treatment center Compass Pointe, to wondering what society will do with the hundreds of clients who were suddenly dumped, to a twinge of relief as Seasons Center for Behavioral Health took steps to pick up the slack. I say twinge, not because I have any doubt Seasons will do all they can — and believe me, I've sat through enough county supervisors meetings to hear just how much its CEO is doing with so little. I say a twinge, because I feel it's almost certain Seasons will struggle with some of the same obstacles which ultimately got the better of Compass Pointe.
Funding is, of course, the reoccurring issue.
Organizations like Compass Pointe and Seasons rely a lot on grants these days, and they can't rely on state funding like they perhaps could in the past. We've also seen two of the state Medicaid managed care organizations drop out of the Iowa market in as many years. Not only that, some of those MCOs have developed a reputation for not paying clinics for the services they provide.
With a model like this, it's no wonder providers sometimes elect not to accept Medicaid patients — and I'll point out, not all providers are legally given that option. Yet, no one is denying these folks need care, be it struggles with substance abuse, mental health or physical ailments. I'll repeat. No one, not even the legislators who tend to have a large portion of the blame placed on their shoulders, is saying patients don't need care.
We just can't agree on who should to pay for it.
Heck, I think there's a bit of a debate on whether anyone should pay for it other than the person in need. I think there's a mentality out there which tells us they got themselves into this mess, so they should get themselves out — he shouldn't have been on drugs, he should have exercised more, Freddy should have sought help when he first started hearing voices. Frankly, I feel that stance reinforces the idea that people in need of help are somehow simultaneously unworthy of that help — somehow less than ourselves.
Anyone who attended a church youth group in the 1990s or 2000s probably remembers the chair illustration — one person stands on a chair with another on the ground and they try to bring the other person to their own level.
"It's always easier for someone to bring you down than it is for you to bring them up," we were told.
While well-intentioned, examples like that tell us the person in need of help is less than we are. It does get one thing right though, it's going to be hard to help in many cases. It's going to cost us something, but that doesn't mean we should be unwilling to give. If we don't value the services as well as the people who need them, nothing we do will solve the problem.
Take a lesson from a 7-Eleven owner who made the CBS evening news this past week. When Jay Singh caught a man stealing food from his store, he initially had a clerk call 911, but then he asked the man why he was stealing. The man said needed to feed both he and his younger brother that day. The owner cancelled the 911 call and filled up a bag of groceries for the man. Correspondent Dean Reynolds asked why he didn't press charges, and Singh essentially replied it would have only done nothing to solve the issue of hunger, but it would have ruined the young man's future. I'll extrapolate for Singh and say it would have in fact kept the thief hungry.
As Singh knows, not every problem — from petty theft to substance abuse — can be solved with jail time. Yet, right here in this state, we have people with mental illnesses, who turn to drugs for relief and get addicted and end up in jail, as if that's going to solve the underlying cause. I've had multiple law enforcement officials tell me on multiple occasions how intermingled substance abuse and mental health truly are. If we want to keep our prisons from becoming the closest thing we have to mental health clinics in this state, we need to start funding them. That said, I don't expect our legislators to change anything if their constituents aren't asking for it.
So, let's ask.
We own the 7-Eleven in this democracy, after all. The legislators are the clerks. Let's tell them to fill places like Compass Pointe and Seasons with as much as we can fit. Let's give it to the person on the other side of the counter whom we know needs what's inside. And let's realize it's going to cost us something to hand over that bag — taxes incase that wasn't clear. Most importantly, let's realize that person may in fact be among the closest to us. We may not ever know about it, but that bag of well-being will be given to our neighbors, our friends, our classmates, our employees and our bosses.
I saw the reactions to Compass Pointe's closing, and I would be willing to bet most people don't want the same to happen to organizations like it. Let's hearken back to the questions we were all asking ourselves before Seasons said they'd take on Compass Pointe's case lead. That said, Seasons surely won't have it any easier if we don't change the way we look at treatment centers, change the way we look at those in need and tell our clerks in Des Moines — and Washington for that matter — to do the same.