The union that represents a majority of state workers and 20 Democrat state legislators have filed a lawsuit against Governor Terry Branstad and the director of the Department of Human Services over the closing of the state-run Mental Health Institutes in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda. The governor made the decision to close the two institutions and look for other options to provide mental health services.
Danny Homan is president of AFSCME Council 61, the union which is suing. “We are filing the lawsuit because the governor of this state violated state law by closing two facilities which I do not believe he has the ability to close,” Homan says. The two facilities closed on July first as the start of the new budget year and the governor vetoed a compromise approved by the Iowa Legislature that would have kept Mt. Pleasant open this year and sought a private entity to run Clarinda.
Homan says they hope to see action that will reopen the facilities as soon as possible. “We have asked for an expedited hearing. We would like to get this into the court and heard as soon as possible,” Homan says. “That’s probably gonna depend on whether or not the governor cooperates, or fights this getting into the courts.”
Governor Branstad’s communications director, Jimmy Centers, issued a statement on the lawsuit saying “Mr. Homan’s top priority is protecting union jobs, but Governor Branstad’s top priority is ensuring Iowa’s mental health patients have access to modern mental health care delivered in accredited facilities. More Iowans have access to quality health care than ever before including mental health care and substance abuse treatment. Doctors, advocates and mental health professionals all believe that modern mental health care is best delivered locally, in-home or in community-based settings. Mr. Homan and AFSCME may be resistant to change that improves Iowans’ health and eager to sue on behalf of their members to protect the status quo, but Governor Branstad will continue putting patients first and working to improve care, increase access and modernize our state’s delivery of services.”
Homan responds that there is already evidence that closing the facilities was the wrong thing to do. “There have already been two former clients of the Clarinda Mental Health Institute that when moved out of the institute have passed away. One of those families has publicly said that they felt the reason their family member passed on was because he was moved from the Clarinda MHI,” Homan says. He says the lawsuit is not about preserving union jobs.
“This is about the citizens, about the people who need mental health services in southwest Iowa and southeast Iowa who now do not have a safety net. Do not have the ability to find acute mental health treatment,” Homan says. “This law is there for a reason. The governor took an oath to uphold the law, and he has chosen not to do so.”
The legislators taking part in the suit are Senator Rich Taylor, Representative Jerry Kearns, Representative Mark Smith, Senator Thomas Courtney, Senator Janet Petersen, Representative Bruce Hunter, Representative Curt Hanson, Senator Tony Bisignano, Senator Herman Quirmbach, Senator Dick Dearden, Representative Art Staed, Representative Ako Abdul-Samad, Representative Jo Oldson, Representative Ruth Ann Gaines, Representative Sharon Steckman, Representative Todd Taylor, Representative Mary Gaskill, Representative Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Representative Timi Brown-Powers, and Representative Dave Jacoby.