Iowa reaches interim deal in child mental health treatment lawsuit



(The Center Square) – The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services has 180 days to create a plan on how to serve Medicaid-eligible children with behavioral and mental needs as part of an interim settlement of a case filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

Disability Rights Iowa, Children’s Rights, the National Health Law Program and the law firm of Ropes & Gray sued the state in January over what they called “an inadequate, inaccessible, and dysfunctional mental health system for these children and youth.”

The settlement requires the state to “undertake a planning process to ensure members of the putative class receive the intensive home and community-based mental health services described in the Complaint and to ensure such services are provided in the least restrictive setting appropriate to Plaintiffs’ needs,” the order issued by Judge Stephen H. Locher said.

“As part of this planning process, DHHS must gather important baseline data about the current deficiencies in provision of the relevant services, make data and information regarding such services publicly available, and develop a continuous quality improvement system to improve the quality of care, transparency, and accountability to members of the putative class and their families,” according to the interim settlement.

The department should make all reasonable efforts to obtain funding to implement the terms of the agreement, the judge said.

“At least annually after Court approval of this Interim Agreement, and consistent with existing state budgetary practices and legal requirements, Defendants shall request state funds sufficient to effect the terms set forth in this Interim Agreement in connection with any budget, funding, or allocation request to the executive or legislative branches of State government,” the order said.

HHS officials did not immediately return a message from The Center Square asking for more details on spending on mental and behavioral health services programs for children.

Catherine Johnson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, commended Gov. Kim Reynolds and her administration in a news release announcing the interim settlement.

“Her commitment to take the steps necessary to provide them with the intensive home and community-based services they need, we believe will allow our children to remain at home with the families or caregivers best able to love and care for them,” Johnson said.

Kelly Garcia, HHS director, said the interim settlement cements plans already in place.

“Iowa HHS has spent the past several years honing its work to better support children and families,” Garcia said in a statement. “This demonstrated commitment from across our agency is especially true for our populations in need of significant support. The Iowa Medicaid team has led a multi-year effort to transform this system that includes bringing individuals and families to the table in a meaningful way.”

The interim settlement is not a final agreement but a pathway to one, according to the order.



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