Dave Heaton

Dave Heaton

A southeast Iowa lawmaker is blasting Governor Branstad for moving to close the state-run Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant — and Representative Dave Heaton, who is from Mount Pleasant, got a standing ovation from his colleagues in the House yesterday after he gave a 12-minute speech detailing his concerns.

“I firmly believe that the administration is premature in closing these two very important facilities,” Heaton said. “I believe they are putting the cart ahead of the horse. Let’s get it right before we make this radical change.”

Heaton has been among a small group of legislators who’ve been working for the past few years to enhance community-based services for mentally ill Iowans, but Heaton said it is premature to shift the burden of care to private providers, because the beds in southern Iowa hospitals for acutely mentally ill patients are “already fully occupied.”

“It’s time for the governor and his administration to come to the table and work with us to find solutions instead of making the problem worse by starting to close Mount Pleasant and Clarinda,” Heaton said.

Heaton, who is a Republican, suggested the layoff notices that went out last week to three dozen workers at the Mental Health Institute in Mount Pleasant were a signal that the Republican governor will move forward with his closure plans, regardless of the wishes of legislators.

“Governor Branstad and his administration have contended that the services provided at Clarinda and Mount Pleasant could be provided more efficiently and effectively by private programs throughout southern Iowa or at the remaining two MHIs,” Heaton said. “That could be the case, if the programs and services were already in place to meet these needs, but they’re not.”

The issue has been roiling through the legislature since the very start of the 2015 session when lawmakers discovered Branstad did not have any money set aside for the two Mental Health Institutes in his plan for next year’s state budget. A state senator last week suggested Branstad was provoking a “constitutional crisis” by closing the facilities this spring, since legislators had approved a budget plan that provided the two M-H-Is operating money through June 30.

Branstad has cited a number of reasons for closing the two Mental Health Institutes. The governor says it’s difficult to find psychiatrists who’ll live and work in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant, plus the governor argues the facilities were designed in the 1800s and it’s time for “more modern” mental health treatment for Iowans.