Iowa family describes frustration of finding mental healthcare for their child

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MASON CITY, Iowa (KCRG) – “Our state has nothing to offer our boy,” said DaLayne Germundson of Mason City. “We need permission to look outside of Iowa.”

That was the reality facing one family trying to get mental health care for their son, and finding that the state of Iowa can only offer so much.

25,000 Iowans have a state waiver, opening taxpayer funding to pay for care related to a disability like mental illness or intellectual disability. Almost all of them get care within Iowa. But not all, and tens of thousands more, are waiting to get a waiver so they can access care.

“18 years ago, autism was out there but not like it is now,” said Germundson.

Autism is a part of DaLayne Germundson’s everyday life. His son Gabe was diagnosed at a young age. As he got older, he received another diagnosis: schizophrenia. The diagnosis has left him struggling to help his son, who is nonverbal.

“He would go in spurts where he wouldn’t sleep for two or three days,” he said. “He would have meltdowns where we’d have to physically hold him for hours at a time.”

Now, 20 years old, Gabe has undergone countless treatments, occupational therapies, and medications. A waiver opened up state funding for Germundson to pay for that care, but he said the options available have changed as Gabe has gotten older.

“It’s gotten progressively worse,” said Germundson.

Governor Terry Branstad closed the mental health facilities in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant in 2015. Five others have closed since then as the state pushes for less institutionalized care in favor of community options that offer more freedoms but are more expensive. The community-based homes he has lived in have supervision, but Gabe started getting hurt.

“The best care is not in a waiver house,” he said. He’s been in two of them that have been found for abuse.”

These supervised homes and other treatments for Iowans with mental illness or other disabilities that impair independence are not cheap. In fiscal year 2022, Iowa spent more than $768 million on waivers. $100 million more than the previous year. When we spoke to Germundson, Gabe was in the midst of a two-month stay at Mercy One North Iowa due to his psychosis; what Germundson thought was a last resort.

“This is the last place I want him is at Mercy,” he said. “But at least I know he’s safe. In just two days I have seen him decline dramatically.”

That was when Germundson said the state permitted him to start looking for placement outside of the state. While Gabe is an adult, there are currently 42 children Iowa is paying to get services in other states.

TV9 reached out to a spokesperson from HHS, which oversees the program about what they feel is the best option for parents like DaLayne. We have not heard back.

Germundson, however, has taken matters into his own hands. He bought Gabe a house, installed cameras so he could check on him, and hired staff to care for Gabe, but they’re steps he wished the state could help with.

“I would like people to know how bad the state of Iowa is as far as care for special needs, handicapped, and mentally ill people,” said Germundson.

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