A bipartisan group of state and local leaders held a news conference in Mount Pleasant Tuesday afternoon to urge Governor Branstad to keep the Mental Health Institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda open.
A budget bill awaiting Branstad’s review would keep the Mount Pleasant and Clarinda MHIs open for a few more months, contrary to Branstad’s January decision to close the two facilities by June 30. Steve Brimhall, the mayor of Mount Pleasant, said the two Mental Health Institutes in southern Iowa provide critical services not available elsewhere.
“So until a good alternative can be worked out and agreed upon by the governor and the legislature, I urge the governor to sign Senate File 505,” Brimhall said.
Iowa Wesleyan College president Steven Titus said he’s proud of the nursing students at his college who lobbied legislators to keep the MHIs open.
“As a relative newcomer to Iowa, I have to say I was a bit surprised and a bit alarmed at the lack of mental health services in southeast Iowa,” Titus said, “and so now the thought of closing an additional facility that’s been around for over a century to help provide those services really causes me even more alarm and concern.”
Senator Amanda Ragan, a Democrat, drove from Mason City to Mount Pleasant to participate in the news conference and tout the “bipartisan compromise” legislators passed to keep the two MHIs open.
“According to Iowa psychiatrists and health care professionals, we’ve heard our state suffers from a mental health crisis,” Ragan said. “…They’re quite frankly surprised at this plan for closure.”
Travis Kraus, vice president of the Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce, read a prepared statement, saying there’s a need to enhance, improve and expand mental health care.
“As a minimum, the Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute should remain open in order to provide an opportunity for thoughtful discussion and coordination regarding changes in existing conditions,” Kraus said.
Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, pounded his hand on the lectern as he sent this message to the governor: “Let this facility live!” And the crowd applauded.
Senator Rich Taylor, a Democrat from Mount Pleasant, organized the gathering.
“It’s not that I’m not willing to change,” Taylor said. “If there is a better way, I’m all for it. I’d work toward that, but today no one has a better plan.”
Governor Branstad has said the MHIs are antiquated and should be closed. Branstad may have tipped his hand last week on the issue because layoff notices were sent to 28 MHI workers in Mount Pleasant and 53 MHI employees in Clarinda. That doesn’t please Senator Taylor.
“Sending out pink slips really kind of ticked me off,” Taylor said.
Heaton said he’s not going to be “an alarmist” about the layoffs.
“Just because the pink slips go out does not water down my optimism that he will sign this bill and provide the facilities we so desperately need here in southeast Iowa,” Heaton said.
Legislators voted to keep the Mount Pleasant facility open for another year and keep the Clarinda Mental Health Institute open through mid-December, in hopes of finding a private company that would come in to operate the facility. Branstad has ’til July 6th to decide whether to accept that alternative. Heaton made an impassioned plea at the close of yesterday’s news conference.
“He should respond to the legislative will and sign this bill and allow this facility to be open,” Heaton said. “Why swim against the current?”
Critics of the closures say they are considering a lawsuit if Branstad follows through and closes the facilities. Branstad had planned to speak to Mount Pleasant’s Rotary Club at noon today, but Branstad’s staff says the governor had to cancel in order to be in Kansas City Thursday morning for an EPA hearing on the Renewable Fuels Standard.