The 10% across-the-board cut in state spending last fall has had major ramifications throughout all state agencies in Iowa, including schools, social services and many others.
Cherokee's Mental Health Institute is one of those agencies, operating under the Department of Human Services (DHS). At last week's quarterly meeting of the Citizen's Advisory Board, members of the CAB heard first-hand from Superintendent Dr. Daniel Gillette, Business Manager Tony Morris, and Nursing Director Janet Staver what the effects have been on the Cherokee MHI.
Dr. Gillette emphasized that all state departments have been affected by the budget cut and said that, though it may seem that the Cherokee MHI took an especially hard hit, "we're no worse off than any other group."
MHI has closed one of its patient wards - a 22-bed unlocked ward for adults, resulting in a substantial decrease in the amount of overtime being paid out to nursing staff in order to maintain adequate coverage. Keeping a ward open means that it has to be adequately staffed to meet standards. Gillette said that in these times, patients weren't usually staying very long in the unlocked ward and it was generally only half full. Once it has been determined that the patient is no longer a danger to himself or others, they are ready to return home, according to Gillette.
Nursing Director Staver said that nursing personnel have been "phenomenal" in responding to requests to make changes in their schedule to help the MHI meet their staffing needs, doing things such as changing work shifts.
Though the Cherokee MHI has not had to lay off any employees to meet their reduced budget, that doesn't mean they won't be losing a large number of employees to what they call attrition. The state offered a very attractive "Early Retirement" package to employees and an amazing number of Cherokee MHI employees - 39 - have accepted the package, which consisted of $1000 for each year the employee worked for the state and a contribution towards the retired employee's insurance for a period of five years.
At the start of the year, the Mental Health Institute at Cherokee had 196 full-time employees. With 39 leaving, they will be at 157 - a 20% reduction in staff. At this point, no one is sure how many of these positions the state will allow to be filled. The best guess is that perhaps seven or eight positions will be filled, but probably not before August.
The retirements should save the Cherokee MHI a good deal of money in salaries paid out, as most of the retirees - all of whom have worked at the Cherokee MHI for 20-40+ years - earned a higher salary than their future replacements are likely to start out at. But with that also comes the loss of valuable experience. Many of the employees who have left or will be leaving soon are in leadership positions and some of those positions will need to be filled for the immediate future, at least, by people who have not had the training or experience of those who are leaving.
Gillette said that one of his goals over the next few weeks (many people will be leaving on, or shortly before, July 1) is to train remaining employees to do some of the tasks which have been done by staff who are retiring.
Of the 39 people who have left, or will be leaving the MHI staff, 17 people are in the nursing department, three are in clerical, seven in maintenance, and four in custodial services. Also leaving will be one Physician's Assistant, one Social Worker, one Nursing Administrator, one Program Manager, one RN Supervisor, one Infection Control RN, the Business Manager, and the Human Resources Director.
Gillette said that the Iowa Legislature can choose to replace one-half of the number of retirees, at probably one-half of their salaries. The state has asked MHI to prioritize 19 positions, and his best guess is that at least seven or eight positions will be filled. Some, such as the Business Manager and Human Resources Director must be filled, by law.
Gillette summed it up best when he said that Cherokee MHI in the near future will be "a leaderless organization with a lot less gray hair." He was optimistic, though, that they will continue to provide the best possible care for their patients.