DES MOINES — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy McGuire unveiled a seven-point plan Monday that she hopes would serve as a “starting point” for combating what she called Iowa’s mental health, substance abuse and addiction epidemics.

McGuire, a doctor and former chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said she is proposing a strategy that addresses both short- and long-term care for children and adults and funding for improvements and programs.

“As governor, I will not let up,” McGuire said in a statement. “Mental health and substance abuse will be a cornerstone of my administration. There are too many Iowans suffering, and we are losing our children.”

She said her plan would increase treatment capacity and ensure Iowans have sufficient treatment options, attract and retain more mental health providers, expand and emphasize support for children and teenagers and seek to remove the stigma from mental illness and substance abuse and addiction.

Other elements of McGuire’s strategy would create a new statewide Office of Mental Health and Addiction Policy, hold accountable drugmakers being blamed for fueling the opioid epidemic and secure and protect key funding sources to combat the mental health, substance abuse and addiction crises, she said.

“We cannot wait any longer to get back on track in working to end these epidemics that are destroying our families and communities,” said McGuire. “This plan will be a starting point in that journey, and I hope you’ll join me in working together to save lives.”

For the past seven months, McGuire said she has traveled the state and spoken with members of law enforcement, physicians and hospital staff, policymakers, counselors and patients and their families. As a doctor, she said she understands that mental illness and substance abuse are diseases, and one of her first goals is working to remove the stigma attached to patients who suffer from these illnesses.

"Ensuring that Iowans have an opportunity to stay healthy and happy is an important responsibility of any governor,” McGuire noted. “For almost eight years, as lieutenant governor and now as governor, Kim Reynolds has failed to adequately address our state’s worsening mental health crisis.”

McGuire said her plan recognizes the need to have adequate community resources in every corner of the state for all ages. Her statewide strategy also includes preventive care to recognize warning signs before people get into a crisis with a goal of getting people the correct treatment they need before they end up in jails or emergency rooms.

McGuire said she also recognizes the cause-and-effect relationship of mental illness and substance abuse and addiction. Iowa desperately needs counselors and mental health professionals who are trained in both mental illness and substance abuse in order to provide patients with the best treatment possible, she said.

Pat Garrett, campaign spokesman for the Reynolds-Gregg campaign, said the governor’s administration already is connecting people with preventative and early-treatment options, and has expanded the number of counties with access to mental-health jail diversion programs from 11 five years ago to 81 now.

"Iowa has invested more than $2 billion into the mental health system over the past few years, reformed the system to deliver care in a modern and local way, and today 150,000 more Iowans have mental health coverage than when the governor first took office in 2011,” he said.

Garrett also noted the Reynolds’ administration recently approved a new 72-bed mental health hospital in Bettendorf, and he said the number of inpatient psychiatric beds have increased from 721 to 747 since January. That same year, he said, the state also invested $4 million to create three new medical residency programs to train more psychiatrists.

“There's more to do, which is why we are focused on concrete solutions and progress to help Iowans in every corner of the state,” he added.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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