The tug of war between supporters of state institutions in Clarinda and in Mount Pleasant played out in the Iowa Senate tonight as legislators debated a state government reorganization bill.  

Last year, legislators told Department of Human Services managers to recommend that one of the four state Mental Health Institutes be closed.  In December, the agency’s director recommended closing the one in Mount Pleasant.  Last week, Senator Jack Hatch of Des Moines said the Mental Health Institute in Clarinda should close instead.  Tonight, Hatch offered another suggestion:  a year-long delay on the decision. 

Hatch said there might be a way to land more federal money to care for “geropsychiatric” patients in Clarinda. 

“These adults are very difficult dimensia or Alzheimer’s patients where they become violent; they need restraints; they wander,” Hatch says. “And many of the nursing homes are refusing to keep them in their facility because the fines and the responsibility are becoming greater.”

According to Hatch, it’s clear these patients are “wards of the state” and there must be a state facility to care for them. There are currently 35 of these sometimes violent, belligerent patients in Clarinda’s Mental Health Institute today.

“We have about 20 individuals that are waiting to get into this facility,” Hatch says, “so no matter what we do will have to find a place to expand this unit so that we can provide better care for these adults.” 

Based on tonight’s vote in the Senate, a decision on closing Clarinda’s M.H.I. wouldn’t be made until 2011. “So we’re not saying we want something done immediately,” Hatch says. 

Senator Hubert Houser of the southwest Iowa town of Carson says in addition to the Mental Health Institute, there’s an “academy” for troubled high schoolers and a state-run prison that operate on the Clarinda campus and share some basic services. 

“If we close down one of these operations of course it obviously is sheer economics.  It shifts costs from one to the other,” Houser says.  “The figures given to me by the staff at the Clarinda facility — there can be a shift of costs to the corrections of a million to $1.5 million and to the academy it’s a little harder to determine but there is a good probably that we will lose that operation all together.”

Houser warns that means up to 400 people in the Clarinda area would lose their jobs. 

This debate likely will be revived in the House.  The state government reorganization bill that is expected to pass the Senate tonight will be considered Wednesday by the House State Government Committee.