Health

Mount Pleasant rallies to keep mental health agency open

Grant, rent forgiveness help persuade Hillcrest Family Services to stay

The Hillcrest Family Services board voted last month to keep open the Mount Pleasant location at 106 North Jackson St., seen here in March, after previously announcing it would close because of financial instability. (Golden Triangle News Service)
The Hillcrest Family Services board voted last month to keep open the Mount Pleasant location at 106 North Jackson St., seen here in March, after previously announcing it would close because of financial instability. (Golden Triangle News Service)

MOUNT PLEASANT — Hillcrest Family Services in Mount Pleasant will remain open after the agency’s board reversed an earlier decision to eliminate the program.

The Hillcrest Family Services board voted March 7 to close the Mount Pleasant facility — along with six other sites, including those in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Iowa City — saying the programs were not financially sustainable.

Since then, area residents and employees of Hillcrest in Mount Pleasant have worked to raise the money and support needed to keep the program open.

Their efforts paid off when the Hillcrest board announced May 30 that the Mount Pleasant program would continue to operate.

Chris Betsworth, Hillcrest’s southeast Iowa mental health division director, said the news was cause for “relief and celebration.”

“We’re certainly staying busy and looking forward to hopefully staying in Henry County for a long time,” he said.

Betsworth said the two biggest things that contributed to the board’s decision to keep the program open was a $40,000 contribution to Hillcrest through a grant program and rent forgiveness from the county.

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“It’s not only the monetary value, but the value that was expressed through the community’s response of how much we are needed helped our board members and administration acknowledge the importance of doing everything we can to stay in Henry County,” Betsworth said.

In April, the Henry County Board of Supervisors voted to suspend Hillcrest’s rent on its county-owned facility for the foreseeable future. The agency’s monthly rent had been $1,200.

“What they are giving us in (return) is not measurable in dollars and cents,” Supervisor Marc Lindeen said during a Board of Supervisors meeting April 4.

Hillcrest also received $40,000 from a Health Resources and Services Administration grant. The $1 million, three-year federal grant program, which is administered by the county, aims to increase access to health care. The Henry County Board of Health approved the grant in April.

“This was an unusual situation we were faced with that could have had terrible consequences for Henry County residents, so we are thankful we were able to rebudget some of the HRSA grant funds to help prevent Hillcrest’s closure,” said Kelly Carr, community outreach coordinator at Henry County Public Health.

Tim Runde, Hillcrest Family Services board member, said while the “mathematics” of keeping the Mount Pleasant location open still isn’t great, the efforts of employees and the community made a difference.

“I think it’s heartening that the community puts more value in mental health than the state of Iowa does. That’s basically what it comes down to,” Runde said. “It still is going to be a loss program, but it was a reasonable loss instead of an unreasonable loss, and we wanted to recognize that the community really stepped up and our own employees really stepped up.”

Hillcrest provides therapy and counseling, medication prescribing and monitoring and integrated health home services. The agency’s board members recognized that closing the Mount Pleasant location would result in significant patient loss, with few providers able to take on the 600 patients seen in Henry County, Runde said.

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He said the board is trying to avoid leaving people without services, but it originally voted to close the Mount Pleasant location because it was “financially impossible” at the current reimbursement rate from the managed care organizations that run Iowa’s Medicaid program.

“The state of Iowa needs to recognize they have systemic issues that are going to keep happening and need to take a close look at (managed care organizations) and restructuring,” Runde said. “They are going to have loss of services and failed agencies.”

Betsworth said there will be no disruption in services or providers in Mount Pleasant.

“Everyone has stayed on board and gone right through this time and plans to continue with Hillcrest for the indefinite future,” he said.

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