Democratic candidates for governor, Senate address Iowa mental health

By: - January 6, 2022 9:00 pm

(Image via Getty Images)

Democratic challengers to Gov. Kim Reynolds and Sen. Chuck Grassley advocated Thursday for increased funding and access to mental health care.

The National Association of Social Workers of Iowa, an organization of thousands of Iowa social workers, hosted the Des Moines candidate forum. Moderators focused questions on workforce shortages for social workers and the impact of the pandemic on mental health.

DeJear promotes ‘lifting up’ social workers

Only one gubernatorial candidate spoke at Thursday’s forum: Deidre DeJear, a Des Moines Democrat and former secretary of state candidate.

Deidre DeJear is a candidate for governor. (Photo courtesy of DeJear campaign)

DeJear said mental health was a personal issue for her. She shared the story of her mother, who passed away when DeJear was 8. DeJear said she attended counseling after her mother’s death, and she worked with supportive social workers and teachers.

“It’s because of those teachers, it’s because of those social workers and my counselors that I stand here before you today,” she said. “I am who I am because of their impact in my life.”

Looking forward, DeJear recognized the additional challenges that COVID-19 caused for Iowans’ mental health, and she advocated for better access to mental health programs across the state.

“We don’t even know the brunt of how this pandemic is going to impact our children, our communities and our families over the next three to five years,” she said, advocating for the state to use its surplus funds to improve mental health programs and create more access centers and mobile crisis clinics.

On the workforce shortage, DeJear emphasized the state must support its existing social workers, making sure they don’t drown in school debts and they are paid fairly. 

“What I also want to do is ensure we are promoting this role and lifting up this role, because it is so integral in the work that we do, and it impacts every aspect of our lives,” she said.

Grassley competitors agree on social worker debt forgiveness

Medical doctor Glenn Hurst and former state Rep. Bob Krause, both Democrats, also participated in the forum. They are vying to run against Grassley in 2022. Grassley and his best-known competitors, former Rep. Abby Finkenauer and Iowa Sen. Jim Carlin, were not in attendance.

Dr. Glenn Hurst speaks at the Safe at School Sit-In Aug. 11. 2021, at the Iowa Capitol.(Screenshot from livestream of the event)

Hurst and Krause were united on their overall approach to mental health – increasing access to care across the state, especially in rural areas, and supporting struggling social workers. 

Hurst spoke about his experience with the medical and mental health system as a rural doctor, and with the social work system as a foster parent. He emphasized that mental health is a medical condition – “problems of brain chemistry” – that requires treatment, not something that people can think their way out of.

“We just have a system that doesn’t work,” Hurst said. 

Hurst is a supporter of Medicare for All, telling the audience a national health system would improve overall access to care, especially for those with mental health concerns.

“Every person in this country should be able to access care, whenever they need it and wherever they are located,” he said.

On the workforce shortage, Hurst identified expensive education requirements and low reimbursement as the primary concerns. In the U.S. Senate, Hurst said he would advocate for debt forgiveness, Medicare for All, and expanded CARES Act benefits for employers to make student loan payments.

Former Iowa Rep. Bob Krause spoke at a National Association of Social Workers forum on mental health. (Screenshot of NASW livestream event)

Krause began his appearance with a reference to last year’s Jan. 6 insurrection: He said former President Donald Trump had created a “cult” that amounted to “the most serious mental health crisis in the history of the United States.” He outlined priorities related to partisan issues in D.C.: investigating the events of Jan. 6, expanding the Supreme Court, passing voting rights legislation, removing the filibuster, removing “big money” in politics and introducing term limits.

“I think we’ve got to save democracy in America, or we won’t have anything else to deal with,” he said.

On the issue of mental health, Krause spoke about his experience as president of the Veterans National Recovery Center, an advocacy group for military members struggling to reacclimate to civilian life. Krause noted that the state has a significant surplus that could be used to bolster the mental health system, rather than for additional tax cuts. He also advocated for debt forgiveness for mental health care professionals.

“There’s big holes in the system, and this is one of them,” Krause said of the workforce shortage.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.