The speaker of the Iowa House says it’s likely legislators will close one of the state’s Mental Health Institutes. 

The state has four Mental Health Institutes, in Cherokee, Clarinda, Independence and Mount Pleasant. House Speaker Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, says legislators may decide to close one of them.

“Because of the budget situation, we’re going to review everything this year,” Murphy says. “But there’s no question in my mind we will look closely at that.” 

The four Mental Health Institutes were built between 1861 and 1902.

“I think the big question is: do we need four of them and can we get the services we need?” Murphy says.  “Mental health (treatment) has changed due to the expansion of medications and that stuff.  We don’t have a lot of people sitting permanently in institutions anymore like they were 50, 60, 70 years ago and they aren’t state farms any more, where people used to work on them, so I think a lot of things have changed from when those facilities were built — not in the last century, but the century before.”

This past spring, the Iowa legislature directed managers in the Department of Human Services to review the four institutions, to evaluate the service and economic impact of each one, and decide which one should close.  That review is due December 15. 

“There is reason to look at changing the way that we do service delivery there,” Murphy says.

A task force created by the legislature and appointed by the governor held meetings around the state to discuss the future of the Mental Health Institutes.  That group plans to recommend that all four facilities remain open.  But Murphy, the house speaker, says other states looked at consolidating similar facilities “years ago” and it should be no surprise to anyone that state officials are seriously considering closure of one of the Mental Health Institutes.

“Look at the economic conditions we’re in,” Murphy says.  “We have to make a lot of tough decisions, and so the M.H.I.s are that we will have to look at.”

The Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute opened in 1861.  The Mental Health Institute in Independence opened in 1873. The Clarinda Mental Health Institute opened in 1888 and Cherokee’s Mental Health Institute was the last to open, in 1902. 

The most recent state records indicate fewer than 300 people stay in the four Mental Health Institutes on a 24/7 basis.  Supporters of the facilities say they play a crucial role in providing mental health services to those who live outside the facilities, not just to those who live within what used to be considered asylums.