Seasons Center CEO talks mental health in Iowa

Kim Scorza is the CEO/President of Seasons Center for Behavioral Health, a community mental health center serving 19 counties in northwest Iowa. Founded in 1959 in Spencer, Seasons Center serves both adults and children — more than 5,700 Iowans last year  living in an area stretching from the Minnesota and South Dakota borders to Carroll County to the south.

A social worker by trade, Scorza has first-hand knowledge of mental health services in Iowa, including nine years in leadership at Seasons. With the governor's bill establishing a children's mental health system now under consideration at the Capitol, Scorza is among many health providers and advocates concerned with what comes next  how (if at all) to fund the new system. Currently, community mental health centers like Seasons receive critical funding from a federal block grant. Its resources are required to be split 50/50 between children and adult services. But state lawmakers are considering taking some of the block grant funding from organizations like Scorza's and reallocate it to the new children's system established by the governor's bill. 

The Center's Stephen Dykstra recently spoke with Scorza about the state of mental health services in Iowa. 

How is block grant funding currently being used at Seasons Center and other community health centers?

Our funding [from the block grant] runs around $105,000 per year, and it's used for both adult and children services. At Seasons we use a lot of that funding for staff training—and to provide services for people who don't qualify for Medicaid but are unable to afford mental health services. This often includes child-based services like behavioral health intervention services for those on the Medicaid waiting list.

We're currently having a broader conversation about mental health in our state. Where do these proposed funding changes fit into that discussion?

We have a huge workforce shortage problem in our state when it comes to mental health professionals—and we keep talking about the problem, but I don't see a lot of action being taken to find solutions. I haven't seen a master plan from the state identifying how we will develop our workforce; I also have yet to see the appropriations necessary to get that done. So, it was frustrating when this proposal [to shift funding] came out last week, because it would take resources from the 3,000 or more adults we serve every year. This block grant is one of the few mechanisms we have for training—there is no other magical pot of funding we can turn to. We need these funds to train professionals coming out of graduate school—and if we're unable to provide them with the necessary training, our adult services are going to suffer. And even on the children's side, if we're only going to provide services without the required training…it won't work. I don't think it's understood that we use these training dollars not only to provide essential services but to also build capacity and be eligible for additional funding.

"This block grant is one of the few mechanisms we have for training—there is no other magical pot of funding we can turn to. We need these funds to train professionals coming out of graduate school—and if we're unable to provide them with the necessary training, our adult services are going to suffer."

-Kim Scorza

Would this change increase other expenses, like administrative costs?

That's definitely a concern. We could see a mentality where everybody wants their slice of the funding pie. My bigger concern, however, is that we'd be taking valuable resources from an already underfunded system and merely shifting the expenses and funding to a different system. We're not building anything new—we're not offering better solutions for Iowans. This 'scarcity mentality' is problematic because now we have a lot of these stakeholders, like health providers, fighting over this seemingly insignificant amount of funding that we all need. In reality, we should be coming together and addressing the much larger issue—getting state legislators to approve the additional funding. If they truly want this new system to work, they need to fund it.  

You've served on various children's mental health and well-being work groups in recent years. Looking ahead, what are your thoughts on mental health efforts in Iowa? 

I honestly started losing faith that something was actually going to get done in the area of children's mental health. I was on the work group for many years—we made sound recommendations based on what was happening in the field. Collectively we came to the same conclusion: that there are certain things that need to be funded in order for a children's mental health system to work…there needs to be a way for families to navigate the system. Right now, unfortunately, we have this 'patchwork' approach to mental health services for kids with no way to navigate it. Let me first say I'm pleased that we have the legislative framework to create this system, which I think comes from general awareness of this issue among Iowans. Of course, the pressing issue is funding. For example, we have a piece of adult mental health legislation that was signed into law last year, and we still do not have any funding to provide the services identified in the law. I'm afraid we'll be in the same position with the children's mental health system.

Any parting thoughts for Iowans engaged with this issue?

People just need to be aware. Topics like mental health really don't affect people until it hits home for them. I think about a lot of my adoptive families in northwest Iowa: many of them are struggling—but you wouldn't know that unless you also went through the process of adopting a child with complex needs. People don't understand something like mental health until those around them start the conversation.

Center on Budget:
'Iowa Bill Would Cause Thousands to Lose Medicaid Coverage'

Iowa remains on the national radar for a damaging piece of legislation that would make it harder for low-income Iowans to work and take care of their families. Tuesday the Iowa Senate voted in favor of a bill that would require most adults covered by the Iowa Health and Wellness Program—our state's Medicaid expansion program—to report work or other community activities activities every month, adding layers of red tape and requiring a costly new reporting system to track participants' work hours and exemptions. 

The Washington, DC-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a blog post on the Iowa bill Wednesday. Author Jessica Schubel identified specific groups of Iowans who would be at particular risk of losing coverage if the bill were be become law: 

  • Working people with unstable jobs or fluctuating hours
  • People with disabilities and other serious health needs 
  • Adults in rural areas
  • Parents and their children
  • Older adults

"In Arkansas, the only state to implement a work requirement to date, more than 18,000 people—almost 1 in 4 of those subject to the requirement—lost coverage in the first seven months," wrote Schubel. "Many are likely working or have serious health needs that should have exempted them, but they couldn't overcome the red tape that the policy created."

Read the blog here


Free tax service benefits working Iowans

It's tax season in Iowa. Earlier this week we highlighted the benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), an effective federal tax credit designed to help low-income working families make ends meet. Since EITC requires an earned income, it encourages individuals to find and maintain employment. The state of Iowa also offers a version of EITC to those who qualify. 

The EITC is an equitable measure to help working families get ahead. But to qualify, applicants must first navigate the often complicated task of filing their taxes. And for many low-income individuals and families, paying for tax preparation services from a private company isn't possible. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers a solution. VITA is a national program sponsored by the IRS that offers free basic income tax preparation and filing through certified volunteers. Generally, individuals and families who earn $55,000 or less per year are qualified to participate. 

Interested in learning more? There are dozens of VITA sites across Iowa, which you can locate by searching your ZIP code or referencing the map below. Note that many sites require a scheduled appointment, and be sure to bring the correct documents with you. Click here to learn more about the VITA program. 


Bill tracker

Want to go deeper? Curious about the status of key bills? The Center maintains a bill tracker to outline the specific legislation we are following this this session. 

Find your legislator

Not sure who represents you? With 50 senators and 100 representatives, it can be hard to keep tabs. Visit our Legislator Lookup tool to find out who represents you in the state house and senate, biographical information about each one and a link to their legislative websites, which list contact information and committee membership. All you need to do is enter your home address and zip code. 

505 5th Ave., Ste. 404
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 280-9027 /

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