Members of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce, state legislators, 61 Cherokee Washington High students, and other concerned citizens attended a "trial run" walk-through Thursday at the Cherokee Mental Health for the Sept. 15 (Tuesday) visit by a Task Force from the State of Iowa. A total of 103 guests were present.
Cherokee Superintendent Dr. Daniel Gillette presented an overview of the things that the Task Force will be looking at as they make their decision on possibly closing one of the four MHIs in Iowa, then presented his response in all of the areas at which they will be looking.
The three areas the Task Force will be looking at are: What kind of clinical care the MHI provides, cost efficiency, and the benefits the community and region are receiving from having the MHI located in their community.
Addressing the areas one by one, Dr. Gillette said he feels Cherokee provides the best clinical care around, and cited their accreditation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Cherokee is one of two Iowa MHIs who are JCAHO accredited, and at the CMS review in February 2009, Cherokee received zero deficiencies, a very rare occurrence for any facility.
Dr. Gillette also noted that Cherokee MHI has reduced the number of incidences of restraint or seclusion by 98.55% over the last 10 years.
Gillette also cited the Organizational Culture at the MHI as being very good, with most employees expressing satisfaction with their job and displaying a positive attitude towards patients, visitors and coworkers. He said they have a progressive Organizational Culture, with a "can do" attitude. Dr. Gillette said the Guiding Principle at Cherokee is "Cherokee delivers results, not excuses."
In the area of Cost Effectiveness, Dr. Gillette stated that the Cherokee MHI has the lowest per diem cost of all four MHIs in Iowa, and that their cost has been trending downward for 15 years. He also stated that Cherokee has exhibited the best "collection rate" of all the MHIs; that is, they have the highest rate of collection of fees from Medicaid, Medicare, and Private Insurers. All fees collected go back into the state general fund, so Dr. Gillette feels that Cherokee is putting more money back into the state, which should be a plus on the Cherokee MHI's side when it comes to making a decision about possible closure.
Cherokee MHI has also gone 17 straight years without a "major comment" by the State Auditor General, and the institute has stayed within their budget for 40 straight years. Cherokee MHI also has the highest number of admissions each year, despite the fact that they do not have the most beds, which indicates a record of shorter hospitalizations and return to the community - another savings for Iowa counties and others who "pay the bill" for patients.
Dr. Gillette also stated that he feels Cherokee has a very attractive physical plant, which is very well-maintained, and has the ability to expand if more room is needed; for example, if another MHI is chosen for closure, the patients at that facility will need to go elsewhere.
As for Community Benefits, Cherokee MHI provides education and training to Physician's Assistants through their P.A. Psychiatric Fellowship Program, started in 1999. There have been 12 graduates from that program, as well as four Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner graduates. Nine of the MHI graduates are currently practicing in "under-served" areas in Iowa (Iowa ranks 45th of 50 states in the number of Psychiatrists per capita).
In addition to the PA and ARNP training, MHI also provides training to nurses and social workers. Cherokee MHI has also held 21 community conferences since the year 2000, with more than 200 people in attendance in medical, mental health and educational specialties. In addition, as the inpatient census had decreased over the year, due to improved medications, the increased emphasis on psychiatric rehabilitation and community mental health support, MHI has made a concerted effort to continue using the buildings on its campus by leasing space to other programs, including The YES Center (juvenile detention), Synergy Center (substance abuse treatment), Targeted Case Management, and Vocational Rehabilitation (help for the disabled to join or re-join the work force).
Though nothing has been spelled out regarding the futures of these MHI tenants, it would seem to follow that if the Task Force decides to close the MHI that these programs will need to look for other locations to allow them to continue to help area residents in need of their services, too.
Cherokee Area Economic Development Director Mark Buschkamp handed out some information about the Cherokee business economy, and the effect that closing the MHI might have on the community and region, based on a preliminary economic impact assessment by the Department of Economics' Dave Swenson. This was not a full-fledged study, but it does give an idea of what the impact of the Cherokee MHI closure would be on the region.
The MHI has 217 employees, 141 of whom live in Cherokee,and 76 who live in surrounding communities. Cherokee MHI has an annual operating budget of $16.62 million, $13.66 million of that total going to the payment of labor. Sales by area businesses to the MHI would be reduced by an estimated $2.2 million if the MHI is closed, so those businesses could be expect to lose approximately 20 jobs and $671,548 in labor incomes. The region could thus expect a reduction in induced or household sales in the amount of $4.98 million, which would cost an additional 61 area jobs, earning $1.44 million in labor incomes.
In sum, the regional output would shrink by $23.8 million, labor incomes by $15.8, and total jobs by 298.
Dr. Gillette and Mark Buschkamp both urged a large turnout at the September 15 meeting, emphasizing the importance of community support - "even if you don't say anything, your presence may speak volumes."
If you want to see this 107-year-old pillar of the Cherokee area stay in town, and and thus provide needed services to area residents, without those residents having to travel great distances to receive these services, you are encouraged to appear at the meeting to show your support.
The community input portion of the day is expected to begin at approximately 3 p.m., and will be held in the MHI Auditorium, located on the second floor of the main building.