Iowans speak out on need for Mental Health Institutes

By State Sen. Rich Taylor

The Senate?s Government Oversight Committee heard testimony this week from a patient and employees of the state-run Mental Health Institutes (MHIs) that have been targeted for closure by Governor Branstad.

Under current Iowa law, the state must maintain and operate MHIs in Cherokee, Clarinda, Independence and Mount Pleasant. The governor?s unilateral decision to close the Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant facilities has drawn criticism from community leaders, legislators and mental health advocates because his plan hurts Iowans who need the critical services they provide. Layoffs have already begun in Mt. Pleasant.

A former patient and staff describe Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant as modern, efficient operations that provide services often not available in other locations, including inpatient dual substance use disorder and mental health treatment. The facilities have trained, dedicated, professional staff that provide compassionate care to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Anna Short, a former drug abuse counselor at Mt. Pleasant, told legislators that Iowa has a mental health crisis. ?A lot of our patients are mandated treatment by the courts. If we didn?t serve them, the prisons would house them, and that would cost much more to the state,? she said.

Cindy Fedler, a former nurse at Mt. Pleasant, believes the transition is hard on patients, saying, ?Just because someone has a mental illness, doesn?t mean they don?t know what?s going on.?

Ann Davison, a nurse from Clarinda, told the committee that since Jan. 15, Clarinda has received 180 calls from 60 counties asking for help.

Christina, is a former patient at Clarinda, said she needed the inpatient experience and that she would not be here today without treatment at Clarinda.

The Senate has passed two bipartisan bills to address the MHI closures. SF 333 would require the Department of Human Services to admit eligible Iowans to the MHIs through the current fiscal year that ends June 30. The funds to support these services were appropriated by the Legislature and approved by the governor last year. His administration should now follow through on its commitment to use those funds as approved.

SF 402 would set up a process for the Department of Human Services to develop and implement crucial community-based mental health services. The services must be approved by the Legislature and in place prior to considering MHI closings. The plan would include input from stakeholders and experts, require transitional services without reducing access or quality, ensure ongoing local access to highly trained community and institutional care providers and identify stable funding for new services.

These bills have been eligible for debate in the Iowa House for weeks but have not been taken up.