In a significant move towards improving the lives of children with severe mental and behavioral needs in Iowa, the state’s health agency has agreed to take steps to develop home and community-based services.
This agreement results from a class action lawsuit filed by civil rights groups on behalf of three children, alleging that Iowa has long failed to meet its legal obligations to Medicaid-eligible children needing individualized and coordinated care plans, in-home therapy, and emergency services.
The lawsuit, filed in January, shed light on the lack of access to essential services for Iowa children requiring specialized care. These children have been forced into institutions for services they were previously recommended to receive in their communities or home benefits that they were entitled to under the Medicaid Act. The class action lawsuit argues that such services are simply non-existent in Iowa.
Catherine Johnson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, expressed the urgent need to establish a comprehensive statewide children’s health system that offers a wide range of effective services. “There was a desperate need to build a statewide children’s health system with an effective array of services,” she stated. “The complaint we’ve filed alleges that these services are unavailable anywhere in Iowa. They don’t exist.”
Under the terms of the initial agreement, Iowa’s Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to consult with the groups that filed the lawsuit, including Disability Rights Iowa and Children’s Rights, every month.
These consultations aim to develop a plan for providing the necessary services and implementing oversight. Kelly Garcia, the department’s director, emphasized that efforts to improve Medicaid services in Iowa had already been underway for several years before the agreement. “Iowa HHS has spent the past several years honing its work to better support children and families,” Garcia said.
The final settlement between the parties must be reached by July 1, 2024, and includes a mutually agreed-upon plan for implementing services and establishing performance metrics. While Catherine Johnson is optimistic about the progress that can be made in the coming months, she emphasized the urgent nature of the situation.
These children and their families have been waiting for these services for far too long. “They would have liked to have these services years ago,” she said. “There is certainly an urgency to providing these services.”
The commitment by Iowa’s health agency to develop home and community-based services for children with severe mental and behavioral needs marks a significant step towards correcting the systemic failures in providing adequate care. Iowa can ensure these vulnerable children’s well-being and quality of life by focusing on individualized and coordinated care plans, in-home therapy, and emergency services.
The final settlement will serve as a blueprint for progress, outlining a comprehensive plan to meet the needs of the children and families affected. With time of the essence, all parties must work diligently to implement these essential services as soon as possible, providing relief and support to those who need it most.