The Branstad Administration is not yet indicating whether the governor will accept or reject the legislature’s attempt to undo Branstad’s order to close the state-run Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant.
A bill that cleared both the House and Senate yesterday with bipartisan support calls for keeping the Mount Pleasant facility open for another year. The Clarinda MHI would remain open until mid-December, with hopes of finding a private company that would run the unit there that cares for elderly patients who are too frail or aggressive for other facilities. Clarinda Economic Development Director John Greenwood says that would be victory for his community.
“Like in anything, you’re hoping to get more, but you have to work with the powers that be on both sides,” Greenwood says. “And, you know, if you’ll remember back when Branstad brought out his budget, Clarinda would have been essentially closed right now, so for us it definitely is a positive thing.”
A spokesman for the governor said this morning that Branstad “will carefully review the bill while also continuing to consider how the state provides the highest quality of care to individuals in need.” Clarinda’s economic development director says the legislature’s proposal gives employees at the MHI more time to figure out their next step and it his community a chance to try to find a private company that will come in and keep the facility operating.
“Probably, most importantly, it gives us another six months to continue to provide services for the folks out there that need them,” Greenwood says.
Senator Rich Taylor, a Democrat from Mount Pleasant, is also hoping the governor accepts the legislature’s plan.
“What the governor was trying to do in shutting down the Mental Health Institution was just wrong,” Taylor says.
The MHI in Mount Pleasant would continue to offer inpatient treatment for those with the “dual diagnosis” of substance abuse and mental illness if the governor accepts the legislature’s proposal. Senator Taylor worked at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison for 27 years and Taylor says he saw many inmates who wound up behind prison walls because they hadn’t gotten mental health treatment.
“And to shut down even more of our state institutions was just totally unacceptable to me. It just broken my heart,” Taylor says. “It just is not the right place for these people. It’s not what we should do to these most vulnerable citizens.”
State officials have said about a third of the inmates in Iowa prisons are “severely mentally ill” — hearing voices, seeing things and often unable to comprehend prison staff orders.
The legislature’s vote on the future of the two Mental Health Institutes in southern Iowa is among the many decisions lawmakers are rushing to make this week, in hopes of concluding the 2015 legislative session — perhaps as soon as today.
(Additional reporting by Chuck Morris, KMA, Shenandoah)