All of Iowa's district courts are experiencing cutbacks due to inadequate funding from the state legislature, court officials are reporting. The most recent cut includes hospitalization referees, which is causing direct concern for Buena Vista County officials.
There are hospitalization referees in each of the Third Judicial District's 16 counties; they are designated by a judge to determine whether or not a person may require involuntary commitment to a mental health facility.
Due to those cutbacks Storm Lake attorney Hugh Perry will no longer serve as the hospitalization referee for Buena Vista County for the remainder of the 2000-2001 fiscal year.
A hospitalization referee will deal with people with problems ranging from mental illnesses to substance abuse problems. Depending on the seriousness of the problem, Perry said he would refer them to a facility for evaluation and treatment. Perry said typically he might respond to 40 to 50 calls a year.
In the Third Judicial District, judges and other judicial officers are receiving the extra duties of the hospitalization referees without additional compensation. District Associate Judge Donavon Schaefer will serve as the hospitalization referee for Buena Vista, Cherokee and Clay counties.
The cutbacks are causing concern for county officials who do not want to see service sacrificed or costs increase.
"I don't question his (Judge Schaefer's) ability to complete the functions of hospitalization referee - I'm concerned with not having access to someone local and not having timely service," said Dawn Mentzer, director of Buena Vista's community services department.
Mentzer said the judge will have the additional responsibility without any reimbursement.
"They are increasing (Schaefer's) workload with limited compensation," she said.
Read the rest of this article in the 11/02 Pilot Tribune.