DES MOINES — Two state-run mental health treatment facilities closed their doors and laid off all their workers Tuesday night, according to the union that represents some of the facilities’ workers.
The mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda closed Tuesday, the final day of the state’s fiscal year. Gov. Terry Branstad announced in January he would stop funding the facilities to transition patients to community-based care, where he thinks they will be better served.
State lawmakers approved funding to keep portions of the facilities open until December. Branstad has not yet taken action on that allocation.
“I’m always optimistic, but (Tuesday’s closing) certainly would not indicate that he’s considering our thoughts on it,” said Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, the top Democrat on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services budget committee. “It’s unfortunate, to say the least. We continue to hear from people that there is a need for that resource. …
“We think we offered (the governor) a good opportunity to make a difference with that proposal.”
Rep. David Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, the top Republican on the budget committee with the Mount Pleasant facility in his district, said he remains hopeful the governor will approve the additional funding.
“We privatized Clarinda and left Mount Pleasant with the state, so the governor got half a loaf on our proposal. So, we think we’ve been more than fair. We continue to strongly encourage the governor to sign the bill,” Heaton said. “We desperately need the acute-level care beds. We desperately need the services provided by both of those facilities.”
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Branstad’s spokesman said the governor continues to review budget bills — he has until Monday to approve or veto them — and decide what is “the best way to move forward with providing high-quality modern health care for Iowans.”
“Modern mental health treatment for our loved ones is best delivered through a new, modern approach rather than a system of institutions designed for the 1800s, like Mount Pleasant and Clarinda, which also lack a doctor,” Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said in an email. “Iowans rightly expect quality mental health care, but that can’t be achieved in unaccredited facilities that are absent of a doctor.”
The labor union’s president pledged to pursue legal recourse against Branstad for closing the mental health facilities.
“I believe not only has (Branstad) violated the collective bargaining agreement by his actions of laying everyone off effective at the end of June, but I also believe he is in violation of a state law and we will take the appropriate action and attempt to fix this situation,” AFSCME Iowa Council 61 president Danny Homan said in a news release. “The governor has chosen to ignore the advice of patients, their families, mental health professionals, legislators, employees, and community leaders. He should be ashamed of the decision he made to shut down these facilities.”