Citizens voice their concerns over CCMH Behavioral Health Center’s Future


August 23rd, 2011 by Ric Hanson

A handful of people requested to speak before the Cass County Memorial Hospital’s Board of Trustees during the meeting today (Tuesday), in Atlantic. Before the board discussed for nearly two-hours, their options for keeping the Behavioral Health Unit open or closing the unit entirely, they heard from individuals who’ve dealt with mental health issues in their families, educators, and health care professionals. One of those who spoke was Chuck Smith, who said the hospital has met, and should continue to meet, both the physical and mental health needs of the community. He says to stop providing behavioral health services in Cass County would be a “step backwards.”

Atlantic Parks and Recreation Director Roger Herring, who served as Principal of the Atlantic High School for 20-years, said he always tried to promote the community to prospective teachers, doctors and others who were considering locating here with their families. One of the selling points, is the fact Atlantic has a full, comprehensive medical facility. Herring says if the BHU were to be eliminated, there would be a void in the programs that we are able to offer. He says we need to be able to provide both physical, and mental health. Herring said the BHU, and other psychiatric services offered to students at CCMH, the Link Center and Behavioral Health Department, have saved the lives of some of his former students. He says it’s the hospital’s business to save lives, whether it’s teen suicide or families who are in crisis, they need to have somewhere to turn to. Herrings says sending them 60-miles away to Des Moines or Omaha, or further, could mean people’s lives will be lost.

Patty Koontz, a Behavior Disorder Teacher, says 106 students had their mental health needs met at the facility, last year. She says no other school district in Iowa has a Board Certified Psychiatrist on-call, available, like the Atlantic School District does. She says sending students elsewhere, would result in a disruption in the “continuity of care” the students currently receive.

The CCMH Board of Trustees Chair Steve Sisler said regardless of what happens to the BHU, they will find a way to provide mental health services to students. The question remains however, whether it will be on the CCMH campus, or elsewhere.