A subcommittee in the Iowa Senate has endorsed a bill that would force the two state Mental Health Institutes targeted for closure to admit patients through the end of June, but staff at the facilities in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant have been told layoff notices are coming soon.
Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, says the staff at the Mental Health Institute in Mount Pleasant told him they’ve already turned away more than 300 patients.
“We appropriated the money. We expected these facilities to operate for the year,” Hogg says. “And for them to be unilaterally closed is unacceptable.”
Senator Mark Segebart, a Republican from Vail, says while officials have been trying to “redesign” the state’s mental health service delivery system for several years, this is not the time to “make this jump” because the beds at the two state-run Mental Health Institutes are still needed for patients.
“Sometimes they just take ’em to the ERs and leave them there for three days until they can find a bed in their own hospital,” Segebart says. “That’s terrible. It’s really a crisis.”
Danny Homan is the president of AFSCME Council 61, the union which represents many of the workers at the two facilities. He says staff at the Clarinda Mental Health Institute were told on Tuesday that patients with acute mental illness will no longer be accepted there after April 1 and the last day for staff there will be on or before May 18.
According to Homan, staff at the Mount Pleasant MHI were told this past Tuesday that the first round of layoff notices would go out this Monday, February 23 — and May 31 is the target date for complete closure of the facility.
“The legislators are on the right side of this issue,” Homan says. “The governor of this state is on the wrong side of this issue.”
Governor Branstad says it’s been difficult to recruit psychiatrists to work in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant and he says the two facilities are antiquated and ill-suited to modern treatment. Senator Hogg says that wasn’t his impression when he toured the MHI in Mount Pleasant two weeks ago.
“It was built in the late ’50s and early ’60s. It’s in as good a condition as the high schools in Cedar Rapids,” Hogg says. “…Second, the staff there is working hard and most importantly the patients who we had a chance to visit with talked about how treatment they might have received in prison had failed. Treatment they may have received in the community they liked, but it wasn’t enough. They were really benefitting from being there.”
The bill that cleared a senate subcommittee early this morning calls on the governor to keep the institutes operating through June 30, since the budget approved by the legislature last year allocated that money. Homan says it’s clear community services for mentally ill patients can’t handle the proposed closures.
“And the governor should sign this bill and he should stop the movement to close these facilities until the infrastructure’s in place to do what we need to do,” Homan says. “And we’re not there.”
According to Homan, staff at the Clarinda MHI are contacting nursing homes and trying to transfer geriatric patients who’re being treated at Clarinda for a mental illness. Homan says that’s “outrageous” since four of those geriatric patients are violent sexual predators who did time in prison for sex crimes.