Legislators of both political parties have voted to reverse Governor Branstad’s order to close the state-run Mental Health Institute in Mount Pleasant. Under the plan that cleared the House and Senate tonight, the MHI in Clarinda also would remain open until mid-December and legislators are asking state officials to find a private company to run the unit there for 15 elderly patients. Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, got emotional during House debate.
“We responded to the majority of Iowans who want to see these facilities remain open,” Heaton said. “…This is our last chance. I think we are carrying the message of Iowans to the governor, to ask him to reconsider his position on this issue.”
Senator Amanda Ragan, a Democrat from Mason City, said closing the two Mental Health Institutes would be a step backward.
“This compromise is a win-win for the governor, the legislature and, most importantly, Iowans who count on those services to assist family members and friends who suffer with severe mental illness,” Ragan said.
The proposal would reopen the inpatient program in Mount Pleasant’s MHI for people with the “dual diagnosis” of substance abuse and a mental illness, plus Heaton said the plan asks the governor to let the facility continue offering services for adults with acute mental illnesses.
“To allow us at least one more year at Mount Pleasant in our MHI before he can figure whatever else he wants to do,” Heaton said. “And at the same time to allow Clarinda to remain open and provide services to those seniors who are seriously suffering from mental health issues, a difficult population.”
Some of Clarinda’s elderly patients are extremely frail and a few are convicted sex offenders who may be too aggressive to be placed in traditional nursing homes. The proposal to keep the two Mental Health Institutes open, at least temporarily, was included in a massive budget bill that outlines over $1.8 billion worth of spending for the Iowa Department of Human Services, the Iowa Veterans Home, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Public Health.
The bill easily passed the Senate on a bipartisan 33-17 vote, but narrowly cleared the House on a 51-42 vote.
Governor Branstad has repeatedly said it’s time to close the state Mental Health Institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda. A spokesman for Branstad did not respond to a request for comment on the legislature’s action.