Mental health professionals from Cedar Rapids are telling lawmakers that the governor’s plan to close two of the four state-run Mental Health Institutes is “terrifying.” Kent Jackson, the administrative director for behavioral services at UnityPoint in Cedar Rapids, says he doesn’t know where patients who would otherwise be sent to the MHIs in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant will go.
“If there is a plan, I have not found it. I’ve searched for it,” Jackson says. “The day that I heard this, I started calling colleagues and saying: ‘Have you heard this?”
Jackson says the psychiatric units at most Iowa hospitals are nearly always full and the governor’s plan means mentally ill patients will wind up “boarding” in emergency rooms for “days” while administrators search for a space for them.
“To say what the impact is — it’s terrifying to think about,” Jackson says.
Jackson is asking legislators and the governor to think about how they’d want a member of their own family treated if they’re diagnosed with a mental illness.
“I just think that a lot of times payors, government entities make decisions about these people and they don’t really understand them at all,” Jackson says. “They don’t know what they’re doing.”
And Dr. Al Whitters, the medical director at Mercy Center Behavioral Services in Cedar Rapids, says a residential program at the MHI in Mount Pleasant that caters to people with both psychiatric and substance abuse issues is crucial.
“People with serious mental illness have a tendency to try to treat themselves with alcohol,” Whitters says, “and then once they start drinking it develops into a life of its own where the first thing that needs to be done is to put out the fire of substance abuse before you can even start reaching into some of the primary psychiatric disorders.”
Whitters and Kennedy testified Wednesday before the Iowa Senate Human Resources Committee. While the governor’s budget outline for the next state fiscal year includes no money for the Mental Health Institutes at Clarinda and Mount Pleasant, lawmakers say the shut-down is already underway because patients are no longer being accepted at the facilities.