Tuesday was the day that the State Legislature's special Task Force came to the campus of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute - the first of four evaluation visits they will make to the state's four mental health institutes.
Following the conclusion of their fourth visit, the task force will make a recommendation to the Iowa legislature to possibly close one of the four.
Following their day-long tour of the institution and visits with MHI Superintendent Dr. Dan Gillette and other MHI staff, the task force ended the day with a meeting in the MHI Auditorium to hear public input from community members and many other western Iowa residents.
Other members also made positive comments about the Cherokee facility, its treatment programs, and staff, and they did make the comment that they really didn't want to close any of the four MHIs, because they knew there was a need for the services they provide. However, they acknowledged that the task force, whose members were selected because they all have a background in public service, and particularly in mental health services, has been mandated to perform this task.
With that, members of the public began speaking, in an orderly fashion, one at a time, expressing their feelings about the Cherokee MHI and its importance to the Cherokee community and to all of Northwest Iowa.
Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation Director Mark Buschkamp started things off, and he also ended the program at 6 p.m.
In between, the Task Force heard from State Senator Ron Wieck, Representative Dan Huseman, Cherokee Mayor Pam Pierce, representatives from several local business people, the police and sheriff's departments, area mental health centers, the Cherokee School District, Cherokee Regional Medical Center, the Cherokee Educational Foundation, Cherokee and surrounding county supervisors, former employees, former patients at MHI, parents of former and current patients, and many others.
Jeff Simonsen, chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Supervisors, said he has heard numerous positive comments about Cherokee MHI from people in surrounding communities, and that rather than the state thinking about closing Cherokee, the program at Cherokee was one that should be emulated by others. Simonsen and Sgt. Brett Gannon of the Cherokee Police Department were among many speakers who cited the cooperative spirit they had experienced in working with the Cherokee MHI staff. Many of the speakers expressed a concern that closing Cherokee would mean traveling very long distances for law officers transporting committed patients and for patient visitors. The reason that the Cherokee MHI, the newest of the four institutions, was created, and opened in 1902, after all, was to eliminate these long distance trips and allow treatment for the mentally ill in all four corners of the state.
Cherokee MHI at this time is responsible for providing mental health services for adults in a coverage area of 41 counties, as well as children's services in 55 counties.
Jim Rixner, Director of the Siouxland Mental Health Center in Sioux City, and a Sioux City Council Member, said that the Cherokee MHI is "essential to what we do at Siouxland Mental Health. There is a need for Mental Health Institutes , and this is the best one in Iowa."
The other MHIs in Iowa are located in Clarinda, Independence, and Mount Pleasant. The Task Force's recommendation is not expected until sometime in December.