Four employees at the state-run Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant testified before the Iowa Senate Oversight Committee Wednesday, disputing the governor’s assertion that their facilities are antiquated.

Sue Rehwaldt-Hays is an occupational therapist who has worked at the Clarinda MHI since 1984. She said, just like the Iowa statehouse, the facility in Clarinda has been updated with recent renovations like new windows, new furniture and a fire alarm system that’s still being installed.

“You can do a lot of treatment and you can care for a lot of people in an old building and you can make a lot of decisions in an old building,” Rehwaldt-Hays said.

Anna Short worked as a drug abuse counselor at the Mount Pleasant MHI until she was laid off last week. Many of her former patients who’ve made a success of their lives after treatment there called after learning the place was closing.

“None of those success stories when they all called to tell me how well they were doing mentioned anything about an old building that they had to reside in during their stay,” Short said. “They seemed to be more concerned about the care that they received while they were there.”

Short said the facility was actually built in the 1960s and, in the past year, it got brand new, specially made furniture that was bolted to the floor in the psych ward; a new, million dollar elevator and a new security system.

“If I didn’t know better, you’d think it was prepping for the new owner,” Short quipped.

Cindy Fedler, a nurse clinician, worked her last day at Mount Pleasant on April 6th. Fedler and the others argued the services of the mental health institutes are a crucial last resort for patients suffering from an acute mental illness who have failed in other settings.

“I think we’re all very well aware that…really, we have a mental health crisis in Iowa right now,” Fedler said.

A woman from Shenandoah who gave her name as Christina spoke briefly as well, telling legislators her outpatient treatment elsewhere hadn’t worked and it was “vital” to be admitted for a month at Clarinda.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that place,” she said. “…My illness was that bad that I needed that long stay.”

She is now working full-time.

The Branstad Administration’s plan is to close the two mental health institutes in southern Iowa by June 30, but keep the MHIs in Cherokee and Independence open. A spokesman for the agency in charge says there will be 30 more beds available after July 1 for in-patient treatment of acutely mentally ill patients in the two facilities than had been available when all four Mental Health Institutes were operating at full capacity.