MUSCATINE, Iowa—At their Feb. 12 meeting, the South East Iowa Link Region (SEIL) denied Muscatine County admission into the region for a second time. Muscatine County requested admission to SEIL after deciding to leave the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disabilities Services Region (EIR) on Nov. 4, 2019.
In a letter to Ryanne Wood, SEIL CEO, Felicia Toppert, Director of Muscatine Community Services, thanked SEIL for their consideration and expressed disappointment that Muscatine County could not join at this time. Toppert wrote: “Based on the recommendation of the financial committee, it appears that we will not be accepted into the SEIL Region. While we are greatly saddened by this recommendation, we hope to continue the working relationships we have developed over these months.”
Because SEIL did not accept Muscatine County into their region for fiscal year 2021, Muscatine County currently does not have a region to join once they leave the EIR on June 30. Though Muscatine County has not released any official plans for how they will address this situation, Toppert shared that Muscatine Community Services will begin working on a plan promptly and will release details when they become available. “We are in the very beginning stages of discussions regarding next steps,” she stated. “We will be reviewing our options over the next few weeks.”
Muscatine County’s path forward contains some uncertainties, as the Iowa Department of Human Services (IDHS) has only allowed one county, Polk, to act as a stand-alone region due to its size. Though other counties in Iowa have changed regions, none have gotten permission to form a region of fewer than three counties. Woodbury County tried to become its own region in 2018 but later opted to move from the Sioux Rivers Mental Health and Disabilities Services Region (SRR) to the Rolling Hills Community Services Region. IDHS only allowed this transition because Lyon County requested to leave the Northwest Iowa Care Connection to join the SRR.
At a special meeting of the EIR to discuss Muscatine’s plans to leave the region held on Dec. 20, 2019, Julie Jetter, Community Systems Consultant for IDHS, raised concerns about Muscatine County acting as its own region as she believed that a county not operating inside of a larger region could not levy taxes to support mental health services or access money in their mental health funds, according to the language of Iowa Code 2020 Section 331.389. “They cannot use their money unless its according to an approved regional management plan,” she stated.
In previous cases where counties could not move out of a region right away after trying to do so, IDHS requested they remain in their original region, at least for a time.