Not one but two officials with Northwest Iowa Care Connections referred to the current funding situation for the state's mental health region a sinking ship. Barry Anderson, a Clay County Supervisor and board member of Northwest Iowa Care Connections made the comment first, during a special Thursday meeting of the Dickinson County Supervisors, Northwest Iowa Care Connections and Sioux Rivers mental health region.
"The hard part for me is to jump to somebody else that is in the same boat that I am," he said. "Do I want to jump from one sinking ship to another sinking ship? At this point, I would rather take the year and see if legislation does anything."
Care Connections CEO Kim Wilson made a similar comment Tuesday morning during the Dickinson County supervisors' regular meeting.
"It's a sinking ship," she said. "It's a sinking ship for anyone that has a cap that's lower."
Both were saying the current system doesn't allow regions to tax enough from their citizens to cover services mandated by the state legislature – the caps Wilson mentioned were put in place by the legislature a number of years ago, and are what limits the dollars each mental health region can tax the public for services. The state also requires each region to spend down their income to a certain percent, which limits the regions' ability to build up reserves.
Truth be told, I had already started to create this panel before Anderson and Wilson made those comments, so that tells me I understand the overall situation pretty well. That may be because I already wrote a densely packed piece back in June on the subject of mental health funding. At the very least, that piece prepared me for the nuances of the current situation.
Long story short, O'Brien County left Care Connections for Sioux Rivers. Kossuth, Winnebago and Worth want to join Care Connections. Neither region is financially sustainable past a handful of years at best if funding remains static while state-required services increase. And merging regions isn't going to really solve that problem. It'll slow the bleeding but not stop it. Par of me wants to play around with the numbers and see what would happen if all of Iowa's 99 counties were to from a single region. They'd never do it, of course, but it'd be pretty hard for the state to argue at that point that the regions need to raise their taxes to fund services. So, as it stands, counties are trying to jump in a lifeboat and board a sinking ship that isn't quite as far in the water as they are – or more accurately, that the additional hands can help bail water faster and keep things afloat longer.
But everyone is still sinking, no matter how you look at it.
It's pretty rare I end up preferring the black and white version over the color version for any of my cartoons. It might have something to do with the process this time, or even the texture I created for the waves and foam, but it's true nonetheless. As you'll see in the animation below, I originally had a larger number of ships sinking across the state of Iowa – one for each mental health region. That was pretty complicated and I ran into issues of scale when trying to show O'Brien, Kossuth, Winnebago and Worth Counties headed for a new ship. So I picked the three best trio of sketches and focused on just the three regions in play for local folks. Of course, the situation is more complex than that, but good cartoons are often simplifications of complex happenings.
This panel required a good deal of reference imagery, and I used a few sizes of customized brushes to randomly generate the spray of the waves. After that it was mostly a matter of applying color to the gray-scale work like I did in September for my cartoon "An end to the season." It wasn't as successful this time. I ended up adding some randomized noise filters to the color of each ship's hull, which helped some, but the issues persisted. Overall, I think the composition is the strongest aspect of this piece. That's not to say I'm disappointed in how it came out, I just wouldn't count it among my best – which is odd because I feel it's one of the strongest messages I've sent with my work.
I completed this particular cartoon in the span of an afternoon, probably around four hours.
As always, thanks for reading.