Government

Veto brings end to efforts reviving mental health facilities

Action officially closes Mount Pleasant, Clarinda institutes

The Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute is shown in Mount Pleasant on Tuesday, June 23, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute is shown in Mount Pleasant on Tuesday, June 23, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad rejected a bipartisan plan Thursday to keep open a mental health institute in Mount Pleasant and transition a facility in Clarinda to be privately run by December.

Both had effectively closed their doors at the start of the new fiscal year earlier this week, and Branstad’s vetoes of sections of a health and human services budget bill ended efforts to reverse the closures.

Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said the governor would convene a working group to decide what to do with the facilities now.

In signing Senate File 505, Branstad also approved a policy section included in it that codifies language sought by Republicans opposed to abortion rights. The measure requires doctors who provide abortion services to offer an opportunity for a pregnant woman to view an ultrasound image of her unborn fetus before the procedure.

In addressing the state’s human services needs, the governor signed major portions of a $1.9 billion spending package but noted that Iowa’s four mental health facilities are antiquated and costly to operate, running counter to the state’s effort to modernize its mental health services into a regional delivery system. The fiscal 2016 budget does include money to continue operating the state facilities in Cherokee and Independence.

Branstad pointed out in his veto message that bordering states have taken similar action to close mental health institutions in favor of a different approach.

“We can keep moving forward and serve Iowans with two mental health institutions rather than four,” Branstad said in his veto message.

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“Therefore, in keeping with modern best practices and the utilization of our system, it is not in the best interests of our patients, the taxpayers or the mental health system to continue operating an aging, antiquated mental health institution lacking key clinical staff, particularly a psychiatrist,” he added.

Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, expressed disappointment that Branstad ignored community pleas to keep open the institutions that also provide jobs.

“In the end, the governor ignored the will of a majority of Iowans and once again took the ‘my way or the highway’ approach to getting things done,” Taylor said.

Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61, issued a statement calling Branstad’s item vetoes “disastrous” and “shameful” on the day before a Fourth of July holiday weekend.

“The governor’s decision to veto a bipartisan agreement on Mount Pleasant and Clarinda Mental Health Institutes harms Iowa’s mental health safety net,” he said.

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