This commentary is the collective work of three Iowa Democratic Party county chairs: Brett W. Copeland in Dickinson County, Mitch Day in Clay County, and Laura Hoffman in Emmet County. -promoted by Laura Belin
State Senator Randy Feenstra has promised Iowans that he will be riding shotgun to President Donald Trump’s second term agenda. His devastating legislative record on health care and mental health shows that he will make the perfect Congressional lackey.
Feenstra has been at the center of the worst ideas in the Iowa Senate. He voted against bills to improve oversight of Iowa’s Medicaid program and helped orchestrate a plan to allow Iowans to buy junk health insurance policies. He pushed to end block grants that ensured counties could provide decent mental health services, fund law enforcement, and keep taxes low.
Feenstra has consistently rewarded his campaign donors. By making state mental health programs switch to a fee-for-service model, Feenstra’s friends are allowed to wring every last dollar from patients and hobble mental health facilities. In December 2019, our counties in northwest Iowa experienced massive reshuffling of mental health resources and facility closures. Feenstra did what he always does when faced with his failures: he passed the buck and blamed county supervisors, local officials, and hospital administrators for inefficiency.
Caring for people with mental health conditions is a difficult money-losing business, but failure to do so will cost us all even more. People who need care often find their only option is a jail cell or the back of a police cruiser. In 2012, 40 percent or more of Clay, Dickinson, and Emmet counties’ children had trauma from adverse childhood experiences. Suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death for 10- to 34-year-olds nationally.
The father of one 23-year-old who took his own life cited the shortage of doctors and counselors in our area as contributing factors, and said “our mental health system here is really broken.” Last year, it took two weeks, a volunteer search team, and a private investigator’s dog to find a 25-year-old suicide victim in Milford (Dickinson County). He was ultimately found only a half-block away from his residence.
Largely, good jobs are the best way to care for Iowans’ mental health, but a decent standard of living and access to health care are also crucial. In our counties, people who have to work for a living are lucky to find a wage above $12 per hour, and it rarely comes with affordable health insurance.
Feenstra may present a sunny forecast, but reality is a tough trend to buck. We’re experiencing a decade-high rate of farm bankruptcies. Nearly two dozen hospitals have declared bankruptcy, leaving many rural communities without care. The uninsured rate for Americans is creeping back up after years of decline. Opioid deaths and addiction are nearing record highs. And all that data is from last year. After the social isolation and economic hit we’ve taken from COVID-19, 2020 has already been worse.
It’s hard to track suicides in small rural towns like ours. The trauma and hurt that comes with such a desperate act is hard to discuss, let alone fix. We must discard platitudes from career politicians like Feenstra and take real action to build a prosperous, hopeful community. To do that, we need a true ally in Congress. That person is J.D. Scholten.