Lawmakers Weigh Closing Two of State's Four Mental Health Facilities

Jan 29, 2015

Iowa lawmakers from the House and Senate weighed the benefits of closing two of the state's four mental health institutes, during a joint subcommittee today.

Under Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposal the Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant facilities would close, consolidating adult psychiatric services at Independence and Cherokee mental health institutes.  Clarinda has 9 inpatient psychiatric beds and Mt. Pleasant 15.

Under the consolidation plan, the Independence facility would increase its residential capacity by 30 beds, increasing the total number of beds statewide for adult psychiatric services from 88 to 94.

Though both Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant offer residential substance abuse treatment, Rick Shults at the Department of Human Services says these programs are underutilized due to the availability of more cost effective outpatient options.  

Shults says the cost per day for Mt. Pleasant’s duel diagnosis program, treating substance abuse and mental health, is $714. That’s compared to $136 for similar community-based services.

Shults also says the condition of Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant are not up to par.

“The wards are outdated and they’re poorly configured… there’s nooks and crannies, and they’re not as expansive,” Shults says.

DHS says closing Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant will save the state $7.7 million. Roughly 150 people work at the two institutes the governor has proposed closing, though it’s not clear how many of those jobs will be reassigned to other locations.

Both Cherokee and Independence are in the northern half of Iowa, while Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant sit in southern part of the state. Representative John Forbes, a Democrat from Urbandale, says he worries about the strain of making patients travel longer distances for mental health care.

“We may have some better services in some cases, but people are going to be hurt by this,” Forbes says. “Both the patients being served and the families, that are now going to be distanced so far away that many of them aren’t going to be able to afford to be able to go see their loved one in these facilities.”

Iowa lawmakers in both the House and Senate and on both sides of the aisle raised questions about mental health care waiting lists, and the wisdom of closing the facilities when there is a shortage of mental health professionals in Iowa.

The Branstad administration has ordered Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant to stop admitting new patients. Because children’s residential psychiatric care is located in Cherokee and Independence, the closings would not cause relocation for these patients.

Clarinda currently houses four geriatric sex-offenders. If the facility closes it’s not clear where these individuals would go, though the state would still be responsible for their placement.