Mental health groups woo O’Brien County

Shane Walter, the CEO of the Sioux Rivers mental health region, talks to the O’Brien County supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 8, as Plymouth County supervisor Mark Loutsch, the chair of Sioux Rivers’ regional governance board, listens. Sioux Rivers wants to know whether O’Brien County is interested in joining its region.

PRIMGHAR—O’Brien County is being courted by a different mental health region.

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, in Primghar, the board of supervisors heard a proposal from representatives of Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health & Disabilities Services, which serves Lyon, Plymouth and Sioux counties.

O’Brien County is part of Northwest Iowa Care Connections Mental Health & Disabilities Services, which also covers Clay, Dickinson, Osceola and Palo Alto counties, and used to include Lyon County.

Plymouth County supervisor Mark Loutsch, the chair of Sioux Rivers’ regional governance board, and Sioux Rivers CEO Shane Walter presented their mental health region’s proposal to the O’Brien County supervisors.

“We look at it as more of a continuation of a conversation that we started more than a year ago, I think,” Walter said. “At that time, you had some interest in just learning more about the region and what it might look like if you joined us.”

Sioux Rivers had previously reached out to O’Brien County about joining its mental health region after Woodbury County announced in 2017 it was planning to leave Sioux Rivers.

Woodbury County eventually joined the Rolling Hills Community Services mental health region, which also serves Buena Vista, Calhoun, Carroll, Cherokee, Crawford, Ida and Sac counties.

Sioux Rivers needed to meet the required three-county minimum set by the Iowa Code to survive. Polk County is the only exception to this rule.

The mental health region reached out to O’Brien County to gauge its interest in joining Sioux Rivers.

At the time, O’Brien County declined the mental health region’s offer, which led Sioux Rivers to recruit Lyon County to join.

“We’ve always felt that O’Brien County and Sioux, Plymouth and now Lyon, of course, were very similar in our outlook on providing services to folks with mental health issues,” Walter said.

“We’ve always believed that we were very compatible in how we went about our business,” he said. “Through many years, I know that there’s been a lot of cooperation between our counties and O’Brien County, in particular.”

He said Sioux Rivers always has thought O’Brien County would be a good addition to the mental health region.

“We think that the counties are very similar in a lot of ways,” Walter said. “We think you’d be a very good fit. I feel Sioux Rivers would be more than up to the challenge of meeting your needs.”

He noted Sioux Rivers offers many of the same mental health services as Northwest Iowa Care Connections and is adding services that have not been in place before.

“We would be able to provide all of the services that you currently have and maybe we would have a bit of a different approach to doing some things than what are currently being done,” Walter said.

“We share all of the same providers, so that’s a real plus,” he said. “That’s a good thing, which makes for a very smooth transition, of course.”

He described Sioux Rivers’ approach to doing business.

“We work together as a team very effectively,” Walter said. “We don’t make any decisions that we don’t talk through very thoroughly — my staff and myself is what I’m referring to.”

He mentioned Abby Wallin, who is the judicial mental health advocate for Northwest Iowa Care Connections and Sioux Rivers.

“We’ve been fortunate to add Abby to our team,” Walter said. “She attends all of our staff meetings. We meet a couple of times a month.

“She’s been a great addition to that team,” he said. “We value her input. And we’ll continue that regardless of the choice you guys make.”

He noted he is the ultimate decision maker for Sioux Rivers.

“I won’t ever do that without all of the input that I need from my staff and, of course, board members from each of the counties — the governance board — ultimately,” Walter said.

The O’Brien County supervisors thanked Loutsch and Walter for bringing the proposal to their meeting, but made no decision on whether to leave Northwest Iowa Care Connections for Sioux Rivers.

Sioux Rivers’ proposal will be discussed by the O’Brien County supervisors at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15. They need to have a decision made by Friday, Nov. 15, so the mental health region can begin budgeting for fiscal year 2020-21.