Mental Institutions May Need to Close Say Lawmakers

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Funding isn’t coming easy for the folks in Iowa. In fact, the state is so over budgeted that they may need to shut down some of the state facilities for the mentally ill or for the mentally retarded. "It is likely that we will seriously look at closing one or two of the mental health facilities, and including the two resource centers'' serving people with retardation, said state Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, who helps oversee the budget for human services in Iowa.

"Nothing will be done unless we can ensure that the quality is maintained or improved, and nothing probably will be done quickly," Hatch said. The state has four mental health institutes, in Clarinda, Cherokee, Independence and Mount Pleasant. The two resource centers are in Glenwood and Woodward.

However, just the notion of a closure has the residents very upset. "It could be devastating," said Cindy Witt, auditor for Buchanan County. "I can't even say how scary it could be for Independence and the surrounding communities. It's really going to upset people."

State Rep. Lisa Heddens, who shares leadership with Hatch over the human services budget, said, "If we move toward a closure of a facility, it's not something that would occur in a short period. We'll make sure there's a smooth transition and that we're supporting the individuals and their families through the process."

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The four mental health institutes served about 2,200 people last budget year, including 425 children and teens. They cost the state's general fund about $52 million a year.
Lawmakers last session ordered the Department of Human Services to recommend one mental health institute for closure.

The chairman of the Mental Health Institute Task Force, former state lawmaker Ro Foege, there must be “adequate” community mental health care in place before an institute closes. "We never said never close an institution," said Foege. “Until we have supports in place, it will actually cost us more money to close one because we're going to end up with more people in prison."

Dan Fell, director of the Eighth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, said there is a direct correlation between unchecked mental illness and criminal behavior. "If any one of them closes, it's going to be tough on our business," he said.

Dr. Christopher Okiishi, a child psychiatrist, said, "If every community had a mental health center, I could certainly see why we would have enough mental health services," Okiishi said. "But they don't."

This scenario isn’t just happening in the state of Iowa but throughout the country. Almost every state mental health department is facing significant budget reductions in 2009. These cuts are as high as 25% in some cases--and even more

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