If it didn't exist before, or perhaps has been lulled to sleep in the past, a poignant and powerful sense of community reared its beautiful head at Tuesday's historic meeting at the Cherokee Mental Health Institute with a special State Legislature's Task Force studying the possibility of closing one of Iowa's four MHIs.
Besides a large Cherokee turnout, more than 350 citizens representing 30 different cities in more than a dozen counties attended the public hearing, with more than 50 taking the podium to speak to the Task Force of the incredible record of service the Cherokee MHI and its staff has steadfastly continued to offer in its 107-year existence.
With their passionate pleas to please not close the Cherokee MHI, the potent messages delivered by many of the speakers brought tears to the eyes of most in the crowd, including members of the Task Force. This included a couple standing ovations.
Beyond the obvious economic impact such a closing would have on the community, with MHI employing 216 and contributing an estimated $16 million annually to the local economy, were the undeniable facts presented by dozens of speakers regarding the high quality treatment value that patients and organizations receive through the Cherokee MHI, and the unparalleled effectiveness of the MHI staff specifically trained to cope with all facets of mental health service.
"Cutting edge" and "over the top" were just a few of the kudos frequently uttered for the Cherokee MHI, with medical and mental health officials coming from as far away as Iowa City, Des Moines, Omaha, Estherville, Rock Rapids, Fort Dodge and Carroll to tout the critical importance of the Cherokee MHI and how it remains unrivaled in its treatment, recovery successes, teaching and training techniques, and areas of expertise.
There were several speakers from Sioux City and Woodbury County, along with area law enforcement officers, who spoke to the value and unique services, and the solid working partnerships the Cherokee MHI offers all of western Iowa and beyond.
We were especially impressed with Cherokee County Board of Supervisor Chair Jeff Simonsen's message to the Task Force. To paraphrase Simonsen: "You should not be thinking about closing Cherokee MHI, you should be striving to emulate it." Simonsen received a rousing applause when he finished.
In a conversation we had Wednesday with an obviously moved Cherokee MHI Superintendent Dr. Dan Gillette, he revealed that he was unaware of the depth of passion and sense of community Cherokee has for the Institute.
"If I took anything away from the meeting, it's that we (MHI) must become more involved in this community," said Gillette.
"Tuesday's meeting was simply remarkable. I had no idea so many felt so strongly and were willing to stand up in public and voice it. The impact they had on us (MHI staff) and the Task Force was powerful and real. What a wonderful thing to see."
Amen, Dr. Gillette. Amen.