Eggs And Issues Spotlight On Emergency Services

Representatives of emergency services were on hand Saturday to answer questions at Eggs and Issues.

Representatives of emergency services were on hand Saturday to answer questions at Eggs and Issues. (submitted photo)

Oskaloosa, Iowa – Eggs and Issues on Saturday morning took a different twist from the normal when members of area emergency services were under the marquee spotlight on the stage inside Smokey Row.

Wyndell Campbell was the moderator for Saturday’s discussion.

Ben Boeke/Oskaloosa Police Chief, Cheryl Eklofe/Mahaska County 911, Russ Van Renterghem/Mahaska County Sheriff, Mark Neff/Oskaloosa Fire Chief, and Kevin DeRonde/Mahaska Health CEO were all on hand to answer questions from the public.

Andy McGuire asked Mahaska Health CEO Kevin DeRonde about the importance of the independence of Mahaska Health as an independent entity, and health insurance for small organizations or non-profits in the community.

DeRonde responded by saying that the hospital is a county hospital, and because of that, the hospital is able to offer the state retirement system known as IPERS. “Because of that, we want to stay independent, along with a lot of other things. We want to be able to govern ourselves. We know what the needs are in the community, and so we hear about a lot of hospitals being gobbled up by different large hospitals out of Des Moines or some other areas.”

In addition, DeRonde says that it’s important to be governed by the local hospital board and “not somebody somewhere else, and we want to keep as many services lines as possible in our community too.”

On the subject of health insurance, DeRonde explained that there is a proposal for “Medicare for All.” Some of the issues with that, DeRonde said, would be “how do we pay for it.”

DeRonde says that in America, approximately 1.2 trillion dollars is wasted on post-acute care. “With that, companies are wanting to work with hospitals, with clinics, like Mahaska Health Partnership, to be able to do some direct contracting. “So we’re in discussion with local businesses about that.”

The discussion turned towards retention of first responders, like police officers, firefighters, in a market that those individuals are in high demand.

Boeke spoke about how he’s been working towards officer retention in order to keep those individuals here in Oskaloosa, by offering full training, and those interested in the law enforcement field come to Oskaloosa because there is opportunity here. “Now they may not be able to be promoted through the ranks like some big cities have. We don’t have the room for that. We don’t have the ranks for that, and quite honestly we don’t need that.”

Boeke said that he and his department have recently hired individuals from the What Cheer area, Muscatine, and currently live in Oskaloosa. “Some of these guys are some of the best people you will find anywhere and they’re sitting right here waiting for us to give them an opportunity.”

DeRonde also addressed the recruitment and retention issue that many employers are facing. When recruiting physicians, nurse practitioners, “When you recruit them, the spouse is either just as important or more important because you want the spouse to be happy. They want to enjoy where they are at, and where they are practicing; otherwise, they could be there for two years and be gone.”

DeRonde said that Mahaska Health is reaching out to local kids who are now in residency, and they are now reaching out to individuals on a quarterly basis. “There are kids who are in residency right now that are from Fremont, Fairfield, Oskaloosa, and Leighton. So we want to make sure that we’re talking to them early and, in some cases, we’re talking to them four years before they graduate. It’s getting so competitive that we have to start recruiting at such an early time.”

Mahaska County Supervisor Steve Wonders asked DeRonde if he could speak on the subject of mental health and the changes in mental health.

“We’ve partnered with Southern Iowa Mental Health Center. That’s been a six-month process that should be completed on July 1st.” DeRonde further explained that space is being rented to Southern Iowa Mental Health on the campus and will be offering services on the 4th floor of the 1928 building.

Tom Flaherty asked local law enforcement how mental health impacts the work they do. “Mental health in law enforcement is a huge ongoing issue that we deal with,” explained Boeke. “Traditionally law enforcement is usually the first point of contact if someone is having a mental health crisis, and law enforcement is not necessarily the best first point of contact for someone having a mental health crisis.”

Boeke said that officers are instructed to deescalate whatever crisis is going on and then get them to the proper care providers so that they can be helped. “If you watch the news across the country, you see that doesn’t always go well. Law enforcement is not given the proper tools nationwide to handle that because that’s not really their job. They just happen to be the first point of contact to get people into that mental health system. That is something that is going to be getting worse as drug crisis involves mental health crisis. These are issues that keep building upon each other, and of course when someone’s having crisis, they call 911, they talk to Cheryl and her people, they talk to Russ, they talk to us, and we end up going there and trying to just slow things down, make sure people are safe and then getting them to the proper care providers. That, across the country, is a very difficult situation.”

“The mental health system is somewhat broken in Iowa right now,” said Van Renterghem. “From a law enforcement standpoint.”

Van Renterghem highlighted the CIT [Critical Incident Training] training that was hosted in Mahaska County last year, that is a 40 hour school for patrol staff in dealing with mental health issues.

For the Mahaska County Sheriff’s Office, a little more responsibility falls on their shoulders over other departments, like the police department. “Once a court order is signed on a mental commitment, we’re responsible for the transportation of someone who’s been adjudicated mentally ill. That can be challenging when you have one deputy on duty, and that order is issued. That’s where a reserve staff comes in to help.”

“Committal actions are so much different now than they were 25 years ago. 25 years ago, if we in law enforcement ran across someone who was a danger to themselves or to others, we simply took them to the emergency room. The emergency room doctor examined them. If they [doctor] determined they were a danger to themselves or others, they contacted the magistrate judge, the judge issued the order. For any of these other mental institutes, a court order, you will take this individual. It doesn’t work that way anymore,” said Van Renterghem.

“Mental health is very frustrating Steve, for law enforcement,” said Van Renterghem. “These other facilities, they can pick and choose what patients they take on a court order.”

“A couple of examples. They typically will not take anybody who’s under the heavy influence of alcohol, who’s under the influence of drugs, or who is being violent. So in that case, now we have to find a bed for them before the judge will issue an order. If that means putting them on the second floor out here at the hospital for 48 hours till they sober up or they get the drugs out of their system, then they get a bed, then the judge issues order. But what do we do with them in that 48 hours in the meantime.”

Van Renterghem said that he and DeRonde came up with a program several months ago where a reserve deputy will provide the security. We’ll post them at the door of these individuals who are sobering up. Kevin’s agreed to add to his budget to pay the reserves for that security.

“Kevin has generously added to his budget for security of these individuals. Then once they are sobered up, the judge will issue the order, we’ll transport them to whatever facility that may be,” added Van Renterghem. “Very, very time-consuming. Very costly, but very important.”

Other topics discussed was when the new emergency radio system will become operational, the updated fire protection, or ISO rating for the city of Oskaloosa.

Eggs and Issues for March 23rd will again feature area legislators, Holly Brink, Dustin Hite, and Ken Rozenboom.

Posted by on Mar 10 2019. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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