Editorial: Don't rush the closure of mental health facilities


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The prospect of at least one of Iowa’s four major mental institutions being closed in the near future has created apprehension among those with a stake in the operations of Iowa’s mental-health facilities. As of right now, there are four state mental institutions in the state, located in Cherokee, Clarinda, Independence, and Mount Pleasant.

However, last month, Gov. Terry Branstad made public his intention to close the facilities in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant and funnel patients to the two remaining institutions or smaller, private care centers. This move has the potential to free up funds to better serve the Iowa community through more localized treatment that can better fit individual needs.

The diverse and complex needs of Iowa’s mental ill could greatly benefit from deviating from the somewhat antiquated four in-patient institution system and renewed focus on short-term community services. The concerns being raised are not centered on the motivations or intentions of these closings but rather the execution.

The stakes for this kind of a large-scale transition are high and if executed poorly, could result in adverse consequences for those seriously ill in need of continuous, stable treatment.

Major shifts in bureaucracy and institutional structures rarely go smoothly, and those who stand to lose the most in this situation are the ones in dire need of help. Part of the motivation for this transition is a lack of need for large-scale prolonged in-patient care, but that does not mean that there are not patients in the soon-to-be-closed facilities that still fit these criteria. When these facilities are closed, there must be definitive plans for the placement of such patients.

This shift in structure carries with it the potential to allow mentally ill patients to fall through the cracks and lose out on the treatment they need. If this restructuring is not implemented well, the result will be more harm in the present than what can be predicted in terms of benefits for the future.

In order for the closing of these institutions to move as smoothly as possible, there needs to be communication among all parties involved in both the administration of the larger state institutions and the smaller private institutions. With planning and accommodation, the seamless transitioning of patient care is possible, but a hastily planned operation could result in a debacle.

If this is the right decision to make, there is no need to rush it. If anything, this decision will only be improved by corresponding plans to better aid the transition and patient placement. Continued, effective treatment should be the main priority, and it would be great if this process can be streamlined and incentivized. However, those in need of the services offered by the mental institutions should not foot the bill.

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