The head of the union that represents the largest share of state employees is in southwest Iowa today meeting with workers who’re being laid off from the state-run Mental Health Institute in Clarinda. AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan said his message to the 53 employees serving their last two days is simple.
“I’m very sorry the governor has decided to take this action. I believe not only has he violated the collective bargaining agreement by his actions of laying everyone off effective at the end of the day June 30, but I also believe he is violation of a state law,” Homan said. “And we will take the appropriate action and attempt to fix this situation.”
That’s the strongest hint yet that Homan’s union will be part of a lawsuit challenging the governor’s call to shut-down Clarinda’s Mental Health Institute, as well as the one in Mount Pleasant. Homan says this situation is different than the one his union faced in Toledo with the shutdown of the Iowa Juvenile Home. AFSCME filed a lawsuit in that case that went all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court, but the court did not rule in the union’s favor and order that the home be reopened.
“I believe what the Supreme Court said is the issue was moot because there was no funding appropriated for the Toledo Juvenile Home,” Homan said. “That’s not the case here. Funding has been approved by the Iowa Legislature for both the Clarinda and the Mount Pleasant MHI’s. I believe that is, I hope that is a significant enough difference to where the outcome will be different if in fact this gets in front of the Supreme Court again.”
Homan said despite the disruption to the affected workers and the economic hit to Clarinda, the real losers in this case are the patients.
“The real losers in this process are the citizens of the state of Iowa,” Homan said, “the citizens of southwestern Iowa who no longer have a facility to take someone who is having a chronic episode of a mental health issue.”
Homan said Iowa lags behind other states in mental health care options and the absence of replacement community based services will only worsen the situation. Clarinda’s MHI has offered care to elderly patients with a mental illness who are too frail or violent to be cared for in a private facility, like a nursing home. Mount Pleasant’s MHI has had a residential treatment program for patients with the dual diagnosis of a mental illness and a substance abuse problem.
(Reporting by Chuck Morris, KMA, Shenandoah)