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Hillcrest closing mental health center in HC

Board voted Thursday to close 6 other Hillcrest programs in Iowa

GTNS photo by Grace King

Hillcrest Family Services in Mt. Pleasant will be closing within the next six months after the board voted on Thursday, March 7, that it is not financially sustainable. Hillcrest is located at 106 North Jackson Street in Mt. Pleasant.
GTNS photo by Grace King Hillcrest Family Services in Mt. Pleasant will be closing within the next six months after the board voted on Thursday, March 7, that it is not financially sustainable. Hillcrest is located at 106 North Jackson Street in Mt. Pleasant.

Hillcrest Family Services in Mt. Pleasant, along with six other Hillcrest programs in Iowa, will close following a board vote on Thursday, March 7, citing that they are not financially sustainable.

It is not yet known what day the Mt. Pleasant facility will close, but Hillcrest board member Tim Runde said it will most likely be in the next six months.

In Dubuque, Hillcrest will close their foster group care program, supported apartment living program and another supported housing program. Supported community living programs in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids also will be closed.

Heiderscheit said that they would not be closing programs if there was not a fear that without some sort of change, the Hillcrest Family Services agency as a whole could be brought down.

“Unfortunately, the ongoing sustainability of the agency as a whole is what is forcing these heart-wrenching decisions,” said Julie Heiderscheit, president and CEO of Hillcrest. “Pray for a miracle and things can change.”

In Henry County, Hillcrest provides therapy and counseling, medication prescribing and monitoring and integrated health home services. It is located at 106 North Jackson Street in Mt. Pleasant.

Heiderscheit said that their location in Mt. Pleasant is the most expensive office to operate.

“Of all the mental health services we operate, unfortunately the income and expenses are most out of line (in Mt. Pleasant),” Heiderscheit said.

Heiderscheit said the actual closing date of Hillcrest depends on when they can get out of their building lease with Henry County, the transition of clients and “if there’s a miracle that happens between now and then.”

Hillcrest has offices in Henry, Louisa and Washington counties. Heiderscheit said that having three separate locations in the Southeast Iowa Region is not sustainable going forward.

When Hillcrest opened their office in Mt. Pleasant a few years ago, Heiderscheit said that they lost clients at Hillcrest in Washington.

Heiderscheit said they are advocating with the legislature, Managed Care Organizations and trying to work with regents and community programs to see how clients can be best served moving forward.

Runde said that the programs they voted to close were all suffering from lack of payment, funding and insurance reimbursements.

Runde said to keep their other 32 programs running, they had to cut seven programs that were problematic. To do so, the board created a rubric of what programs had sustained loses, Runde said.

“The board wanted it on the record that it was with great sadness and difficulty we made this decision,” Runde said. “There’s a need, there’s probably more need than ever for mental health services, and those people don’t go away. Where they show up is in the Emergency Room or the Sheriff’s Office, and they find other ways to deal with their problems.”

Sarah Berndt, coordinator of disability services in Henry County, said that she believes it will be detrimental for Hillcrest to close in Henry County.

“My fear or concern is finding staff to do prescribing, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners,” Berndt said. “There’s a workforce shortage, so I don’t know how we’re going to be able to replace that service with another provider.”

Berndt said 60 percent of Hillcrest’s patients in Mt. Pleasant are Medicaid and Medicare recipients. If Hillcrest closes, they will have to travel to Fairfield, Burlington, or Washington for mental health services in the future.

“It means folks who have limited income are going to have to figure out a way to get transportation to meet those needs,” Berndt said.

Berndt said over the last year and a half, Healthy Henry County Communities has looked into what mental health services are available in Henry County. They found that Hillcrest has had a positive impact on the availability of therapy and prescriber time, and that it’s improved access to critical mental health services, she said.

Berndt said that they hear that a lot of clients wait six weeks or more for a crisis mental health appointment. Hillcrest has crisis appointments available, so people aren’t put on a waiting list.

“My hope would be ... that something delays this, so there can be another look at it and a different outcome,” Berndt said. “We’re going to figure out what to do. It’s going to take a group effort from the SEIL Region and the county Board of Supervisors.”