About 250 people gathered at the Clarinda Mental Health Institute Saturday morning to attend a public forum pertaining to the possible closing of the more than 125-year old facility. The Omaha World-Herald reports Iowa Department of Human Services Director Charles Palmer faced the fired-up crowd and mental health professionals, including Dr. Marin Broucek, of Omaha, who called for more mental health services, not less.
Page County Sheriff Lyle Palmer said closing the facility would burden local law enforcement. Having to transport the mentally ill people hundreds of miles could take two deputies or police officers, which would be difficult for smaller agencies. A woman who identified herself as Ruth King and said she was mentally disabled, pointed out that state facilities that would remain open are a long way from Clarinda.
In his remarks, Human Services Director Palmer said mental health care was changing and the way services are being delivered is downsizing. Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed ending funding for both the Clarinda institute and a similar facility in Mount Pleasant, in eastern Iowa, shutting them down on July 1.
The Cherokee Mental Health Institute in northwest Iowa would remain open, as would the Independence Mental Health Institute in eastern Iowa. The state says the move would save nearly $8 million. But Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said the closings were not planned to save money, but to serve patients better. Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, said last week that she supports the move to close the two facilities; a more community-based model is better than an institutional model, she said.
But she wants to make sure the savings are put into community-based mental health treatment. Amy Lorentzen McCoy, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Human Services, said the plan is for savings to be put into Medicaid and into expanding beds in the facility in Independence. Neither institute targeted for closing is nationally accredited, mostly because of their aging facilities and an inability to attract the psychiatrists needed to prescribe medication, McCoy said.
There is no psychiatrist at Mount Pleasant, and in Clarinda, the full-time psychiatrist is retiring, she said. The number of mental health patients served by Clarinda and Mount Pleasant has been declining for decades, with 24 currently being treated in Clarinda and 47 in Mount Pleasant.
Iowa is spending nearly $7 million to run the Mount Pleasant institution and $8.7 million on the Clarinda location. Both have been around since the 19th century; Mount Pleasant was founded in 1864 and Clarinda in 1888. A consultant hired by Gov. Chet Culver’s administration in 2009 recommended shuttering Clarinda and Mount Pleasant, but the proposal was dropped when local and union officials protested and the Legislature didn’t approve the plan.
During a hearing at the State Capitol last week, Mental Health and Disability Services Division Administrator Rick Shults said the facilities are outdated, costly and serve only a small number of people. Shults said it wasn’t clear how many people would lose their jobs. About 160 people in total work at the facilities, 76 of them in Clarinda, but some could get other positions with the state.
Democrats and Republicans at the meeting raised questions about the proposal. Legislators also asked what would happen to four elderly sex offenders who live at the Clarinda institution. Shults said the state will work to find facilities for them, but it was not clear where that would be. Human Services Director Palmer said Saturday some of those offenders could be placed in nursing homes.