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Group Aiming to Boost Care

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
Envision 2010 Committee Has Ambitious Goals

Emily Kittle

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

June 4, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

When the disease was at its worst, Jan Hess was drinking more than a fifth of alcohol a day.

She was constantly tired and throwing up. Her liver and pancreas were beginning to fail her. She was deathly ill.

But she couldn't stop.

"It became daily, and it became 24 hours a day," Hess said of her drinking. "It was terrible."

It was March 30, 1977, when Hess checked herself into a Dubuque hospital, where she stayed for the next two weeks.

"It was a matter of life and death, and I knew it," she said.

Hess, 67, said she hasn't had a drop of alcohol since that fateful day she sought help.

The recovering alcoholic today wants to use her experience to help lift others in crisis. And that's why Hess volunteered to serve as a member of the mental health and substance abuse services committee, part of Dubuque's Envision 2010.

The campaign to enhance and strengthen mental health and substance abuse services in Dubuque made the Envision 2010 wish list of the top 10 city projects to be completed in the next five years.

The 17 people on the project's planning committee have outlined some ambitious goals, including:

* Develop housing options for individuals undergoing substance abuse treatment.

* Develop and maintain a service directory available to all providers.

* Improve the crisis and emergency services with a central phone number.

* Explore year-round services for children with mental health issues, including autism and attention-deficit hyperactive disorder.

* Promote educational and prevention planning.

* Extend services to surrounding communities in the tri-state area.

But much of this won't happen without some serious fund-raising. The committee is partnering with the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque to establish an endowment to improve services.

John Curtis, who is chairing the project's planning committee, said the campaign aims to raise $10 million - a figure he admits is daunting.

"(It) is quite a goal," said Curtis, president of the Mental Health Association of Dubuque County. "I'm quivering in my boots."

Curtis said the financial collapse of the Gannon Center for Community Mental Health catapulted Dubuque's mental health crisis to the forefront of public attention.

"The community pressed to fix the services by including this as an Envision project," he said.

At least one in five Americans will develop depression or another mood disorder during their lifetime, but the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health estimates that only half of the individuals in need of mental health care get treatment.

"If we can use our endowment to plug those holes in the system, to create a more comprehensive mental health and substance abuse program in the tri-state area, then we have helped all of the citizens to have a better life," said committee member Pat Balvanz, who is president of the National Alliance of Mental Illness Dubuque.

The committee is not trying to replace county or state-funded mental health programs. It simply strives to enhance the existing services. For instance, the committee would like to beef up the 211 information and referral number so that an operator answers the phone, as opposed to a recording.

Many of the goals are at the beginning of the planning process, and Curtis acknowledges that everything might not come together by 2010.

But the committee is willing to try.

"All of the other wonderful things that we have going in our community are just gravy," Balvanz said. "Let's endow the arts; let's build a walking trail; let's do all of these wonderful things. But let's not forget the most vulnerable of our citizens."

Hess said she received the help she needed to turn her life around. Now, she said, it's time others get that helping hand.

"I have seen people who have been at the brink of death struggling and getting well," Hess said. "And I think that it is possible for those human souls to be well, but I see opportunities missed."