DES MOINES (AP) — Two state mental health facilities slated to close this summer would remain open for a few months before switching to private care, under a proposal announced Friday with Gov. Terry Branstad's support.
The plan, facilitated through Reps. Dave Heaton and Cecil Dolecheck, would keep state-funded services available at facilities in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant through Dec. 15. That includes psychiatric services at Clarinda and substance abuse services and dual diagnosis services at Mount Pleasant.
"This is the best deal I think that we can get," said Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant who supports keeping the facilities open.
The state Department of Human Services said it will work with the Department of Public Health to find private health providers to operate the facilities beginning in January.
Services would be funded through third-party insurance payments and substance abuse treatment money from the state, according to a press release.
Democratic Sen. Amanda Ragan of Mason City, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee, said there are "a lot of questions" about how the plan would work and that she needs to review the proposal before commenting further.
Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, was wary of the announcement
"There is no valid reason for the governor to outsource these facilities unless his emphasis is on cutting costs by severely limiting services."
Heaton said he expects any private vendors to work with state officials to hire back current employees.
"They can move right over and work for the private agency," he said.
Branstad's budget proposal, released in January, removed funding for the facilities beginning in July. That created friction between the governor's office and lawmakers, who argued the closings were illegal and detrimental to patients seeking local services. Senate Democrats have proposed a budget bill for health services that keeps funding for both facilities.
Branstad argues the facilities are outdated and patients would be better served elsewhere, including at the other two state mental health facilities in Cherokee and Independence. Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said the governor believes the new proposal is a "fair compromise" with lawmakers.
"We are pleased Branstad has agreed to extend the closing of MHI to the end of the year," said John Greenwood, director of Clarinda Economic Development. "Our main focus has been making sure those who need the services continue to get them. I caution, though, on an arbitrary closing date. If we transition to another service, we need to make sure the same quality is there. I don't think we would have got this far without all the folks who answered the call to call their legislators and keep it open."
Greenwood also thanked the people in the Clarinda area.
"When I was in Des Moines, the representatives and senators I talked to were amazed at the number of calls they got. Those people made this happen. They pushed their legislators to work and keep this open. It's really a positive step."
This report contains material from the World-Herald News Service.