Influential Visits Pave the Way for Behavioral Health Initiatives in Rural Iowa

Director Garcia visit

In a significant development for Iowa, influential lawmakers are turning their attention to the critical needs of behavioral health across Iowa, particularly in rural areas where access to comprehensive services and reimbursements remain a challenge. Recent visits from prominent figures underscore a renewed commitment to addressing the root causes of substance abuse and promoting mental health support in communities throughout the state.

Director Garcia visitOn National Rural Health Day (November 16th), Iowa Health and Human Services Director, Kelly Garcia, and State Epidemiologist, Dr. Robert Kruse, visited MRHC and the Recovery Center. Their presence underscored the critical need for integrated behavioral health services, with a focus on mental health and substance abuse. Engaging with healthcare professionals, community leaders, and the hospital’s board and senior leadership team, Director Garcia and Dr. Kruse discussed collaborative solutions to improve statewide healthcare and to also address the unique needs of rural communities.

During her visit to Manning on September 12th, Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird highlighted the importance of tailoring initiatives to the unique challenges faced by these areas stating, “Rural communities often encounter barriers in accessing quality healthcare and addiction treatment services. The opioid settlement funds are one-time funds that could provide an opportunity to bridge those gaps and make a lasting impact on the lives of those affected by opioid addiction in our rural communities.” Brenna Bird

Earlier this year, agreements were reached with manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies to provide nearly $50 billion in payments for state and local governments across the nation. Funding was distributed to each state, and in Iowa a portion of those funds were distributed to each county for the county supervisors to disperse locally. The rest of the funds are currently held at the state level with the anticipation that lawmakers will determine appropriations in the next legislative session.

Charles GrassleySenator Charles Grassley as well as Republican presidential candidate and North Dakota Governor, Doug Burgum, accompanied by his wife, Kathryn, also visited MRHC earlier this fall to gain a better understanding of the healthcare needs affecting rural areas and the unique position of MRHC and the Recovery Center.

These visits provided lawmakers with a firsthand look at the Recovery Center’s efforts to support residential and outpatient recovering addicts. MRHC, serving as a model for rural healthcare services, became a platform for discussions on comprehensive strategies to address behavioral health challenges, reimbursements, and access to care in rural Iowa.Doug Bergum

Director Garcia emphasized the importance of addressing behavioral health needs, stating, “By understanding the challenges faced by the communities across our state, utilizing research-based methodologies, and taking a comprehensive approach to address the most critical health needs, we can develop targeted and effective strategies to improve our overall health outcomes.”

These visits reflect a broader, bipartisan commitment to address rural healthcare challenges in a unified and strategic way. This holistic approach starts with a grassroots understanding of the challeng es affecting rural hospitals accompanied by discussions to adjust policies at the state and federal levels. These collaborations reflect an aligned dedication to build healthier and more resilient commun ities across the state.

As Iowa takes a significant stride forward in the battle against opioid addiction, the opioid settlements stand as a beacon of hope for rural communities. MRHC Administration and the leadership of the Recovery Center are taking this opportunity to educate local county supervisors as well as statewide leaders to better understand the services that already exist, their vision for addressing this epidemic, and the potential for MRHC and the Recovery Center to serve even more clients and their families.

Grassley Visits MRHC on #99 County Tour

Jackie Blackwell, Chief Quality Officer; Michelle Andersen, Chief Nursing Officer, Shelli Lorenzen, Chief HR Officer, and Linn Block, CEO, pose with Senator Grassley outside of MRHC.

Senator Grassley reiterated his pride for Iowa’s long-standing reputation of providing high-quality, cost-effective health care.U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) toured Manning Regional Healthcare Center and met with hospital administration and board leadership on Monday, August 28, as part of his annual 99 county tour. Also present on behalf of MercyOne were Bob Ritz, CEO; Mary Cownie, Chief of Staff; and Mike Trachta, Vice President of Network Affiliates.

As the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Grassley has worked closely with critical Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and retirement policies and has potential to influence significant funding reimbursements for rural hospitals and was very familiar with the challenges faced by rural hospitals.

“Representative government is a two-way street, and it requires continued dialogue between elected officials and the people we represent,” Grassley said. “I appreciate the opportunity to hold town meetings, answer questions and take comments from Iowans. My annual 99 county meetings help me regularly keep in touch with Iowans to better represent them in Washington.”

MRHC CEO, Linn Block, MHA, BSN, RN, expressed that, “Funding continues to be a challenge for rural hospitals every year, especially as we see costs skyrocket and reimbursement rates remain the same. However, MRHC did end up breaking even this year, which is great, but it leaves us little room to invest in future priorities that will take our facility to the next level.”

Additional questions to the Senator addressed the workforce shortage and challenges with filling critical patient-care roles.  Shelli Lorenzen, Chief Human Resources Officer, shared, “MRHC has had a few positions open since before the pandemic that we are still struggling to get filled.”Manning Regional Healthcare Center senior leadership team and board leadership, along with members of MercyOne’s administration team sat down for conversations on Monday, August 28, as part of the Senator’s annual 99 county tour.

She shared that MRHC is being innovative to fill some nursing positions and is working with four Indonesian students to secure nursing degrees through the hospital’s reimbursement program. She requested to the Senator that more be done to improve immigration processes and workforce preparedness to help address the workforce shortage.

Due to rural residents’ high dependency on Medicare, rural hospitals are typically more financially vulnerable since Medicare only pays a fraction of hospital’s actual costs. “MRHC receives a much lower reimbursement than the national average making the financial viability of our small, rural hospital difficult to ensure that we can continue providing quality patient access to care,” shared Block.Recovery Center Director, Taya Vonnahme, MSN, RN, ARNP, CADC, shares how MRHC is uniquely positioned to provide support for patients facing substance abuse and addiction as well as other ailments thanks to the variety of services being provided under one roof.

Participants encouraged the Senator to look at additional ways to improve Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to rural hospitals. Recovery Center Director, Taya Vonnahme, MSN, RN, ARNP, CADC, was on hand to share how MRHC is uniquely positioned to provide support for patients facing substance abuse and addiction as well as other ailments thanks to the relationship with MRHC and a variety of services being provided under one roof.  However, Medicare and Medicaid funding continues to be a challenge to compensate at a rate that covers the cost of services.

All were grateful to the Senator for visiting and board member Larry Hagedorn expressed his appreciation for the USDA loans that were pivotal in building the new hospital ten years ago.Linn Block, CEO, shakes hands with Senator Grassley outside of MRHC.

“We are grateful for Senator Grassley’s visit and his ongoing support of rural healthcare. We also appreciate the support and relationship with the MercyOne administration, as it takes the whole system working together effectively to address the current and long-term challenges in healthcare,” shared Block.

This is Grassley’s 43rd straight year holding meetings in every one of Iowa’s 99 counties. Grassley has held at least one meeting in every county, every year since he was first elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. He answers questions on any subject. Iowans set the agenda.