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‘We can do better and we need to do better’

Lions Club hosts mental health symposium

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Fort Dodge Fire Department Chief Steve Hergenreter speaks during the Fort Dodge Evening Lions Club’s Mental Health Symposium at the Cardiff Center on Thursday evening. Hergenreter was joined by Fort Dodge Police Chief Roger Porter, Webster County Sheriff Jim Stubbs and FDFD EMS Supervisor Terry Evans.

Mental health was the focus of discussion at Fort Frenzy’s Cardiff Center on Thursday evening.

The Fort Dodge Evening Lions Club hosted a mental health symposium, inviting local community leaders and first responders to talk on the issue. About 50 community members attended.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in Webster County and we sure need to get something going to help,” said Bill Oberhelman, a Lions Club member and organizer for the event. “We’ve got a lot of need for something like this and any way we can help, we’re certainly going to try to do that.”

State Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, opened the symposium by saying one of the biggest problems in the mental health care system in Iowa is the lack of mental health care providers.

“We just don’t have enough people in Iowa to provide services that we need,” she said.

Meyer, a member of the Health and Human Service budget committee, said part of that problem is Medicaid reimbursement levels.

“They’re too low,” she said.

Meyer said that on the budget committee, she’s been fighting for increases in reimbursement rates.

“It’s difficult to attract providers to the state if surrounding states are paying them more,” she said.

Angela Tharpe, executive director of National Alliance of Mental Illness of Central Iowa, shared her personal story with mental illness.

Tharpe disclosed that she had lived with mental illness her whole life, but didn’t know there was anything off until she was in her early 30s. She also discussed her own experiences when her young son began struggling with mental illness and trying to navigate and find help and support for him. She shared that her son did ultimately die by suicide, but she and her husband refuse to let his story end there.

“Mental illness in the family effects everyone emotionally,” she said.

NAMI is ending the silence on mental health, Tharpe explained.

“You don’t have to deal with this alone,” she said.

Tharpe is using her experiences to keep the conversation about mental illness alive.

“I’ve lived it myself and I’ve lived it with family,” she said.

Local law enforcement and fire department leaders also spoke on the panel.

“In Webster County, we have a lot of resources in this area, it’s just a matter of getting people hooked up with them and getting them to follow through,” said Sheriff Jim Stubbs. “You can’t fix a problem in 48 hours.”

Making sure people get followup care is key, he said.

The sheriff noted that in Iowa, the jails are the state’s biggest mental health provider.

“We can do better and we need to do better,” he said.

Fort Dodge Fire Chief Steve Hergenreter said his department has seen 517 mental health patients so far this year — about two a day. He said in his 31 years at the department, he’s seen more and more people calling 911 for mental health services.

“I don’t like to live my life reacting to things, and I feel like with mental health, we’re in a reaction mode here,” he said. “I would like us to be more proactive.”

The symposium closed out with a panel discussion to keep the mental health conversation going.

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