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Iowa officials investigate complaint at Independence Mental Health Institute

Probe focusing on patient rights and responsibilities, psychiatric services

The Independence Mental Health Institute is one of four state run facilities offering treatment to adults and children in need of acute psychiatric care in Iowa. The facility can care for around 95 patients at a time and generally has a wait list for its facilities. Shot in Independence, September 28, 2009. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
The Independence Mental Health Institute is one of four state run facilities offering treatment to adults and children in need of acute psychiatric care in Iowa. The facility can care for around 95 patients at a time and generally has a wait list for its facilities. Shot in Independence, September 28, 2009. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals conducted a surprise two-day investigation last week at the Independence Mental Health Institute following an anonymous complaint.

The investigation focused on areas of patient rights and responsibilities and psychiatric services, DIA Spokesman David Werning said Tuesday. The investigation report should be complete within a week, he said.

The MHI probe is unusual because the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) declined to investigate the complaint under federal laws because of lack of specificity in the allegations. But the state decided to investigate under state licensure rules.

"Staff here felt we needed to look into it," Werning said.

The Jan. 21-22 investigation follows a Jan. 12 Gazette report about MHI staff being injured by patients 70 times last year, with half of those injuries considered assaults. The Department of Human Services, which oversees MHI, said most injuries were minor with only seven referred for evaluation for workers compensation.

Assault charges filed in Buchanan County show a handful of adult MHI patients committing numerous attacks on patients and staff. Juvenile patients have also injured staff, employees said, because supervisors have discouraged staff from using restraints.

The Independence MHI is one of Iowa’s four mental health facilities that provide short-term psychiatric treatment for severe mental illness. The facility has 75 beds for adults and juveniles.

The institute is considered the last resort for some of the state’s most dangerous patients. About 90 percent of the patients at MHI last year were committed involuntarily, which means a court determines they are a danger to themselves or others.

Patient rights and responsibilities, one of the categories used for the DIA investigation, usually focuses on staff treatment of patients, Werning said, but it also can cover patients’ treatment of staff.The psychiatric services category covers whether a facility is properly caring for patients who need those services.

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