A common theme ran through four reports made to the Citizen's Advisory Board of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute at their Quarterly meeting in Cherokee Friday.
Wittrock, who is also the Director of Operations at CCUSO, assumed the MHI Business Manager duties when MHI Business Manager Tony Morris opted for Early Retirement earlier this summer.
Several other MHI employees and one CCUSO employee also elected to take the early retirement package offered by the state, including MHI's Plant Operations Manager Mike Thompson, Nursing Director Janet Staver, and Human Relations Associate Mary Ann Hanson. Theses decisions have led to what Wittrock characterized - in a bit of an intentional understatement - as "an interesting time" at the MHI. Every department at MHI came up with a Strategic Plan on how to deal with the budget situation in their department.
Wittrock said that the Maintenance and Housekeeping Departments were both hit hard with the early retirements, and the plan developed for these departments has led to a moratorium on "major" projects.
Another strategy that has been employed is pulling employees from other departments to mow the large lawn on the MHI grounds. Housekeeping kits have also been delivered to the wards, and each ward is now responsible for their own housekeeping duties, performed by ward staff.
Alecia Dougherty, who assumed the new position of Director of Developmental Services in June, spoke to the Advisory Board next. Dougherty is a Social Worker who is from Sac County, received training at both Iowa and Iowa State Universities, and worked in the state of Texas and in Omaha, Nebraska before returning to Iowa. She stated that, though the MHI Census is down, the Social Workers are still very busy with discharge planning, which has been quite difficult due to funds also being cut at many of the agencies involved with patients' return to their communities.
Several Advisory Board members observed that the budget cuts at both the state and local levels have led to what they termed a "disturbing lack of services" for clients, and expressed a concern that the upcoming year "could be a real train wreck."
The next speaker on Friday was Jane Campbell, the new Administrator of Nursing, who has been employed at Cherokee MHI for 28 years. Campbell said that the nursing department lost several direct care staff to early retirement and they have had to change staff schedules and pay overtime to cope. She said the department is "trying to do our best to keep our heads above the water." They have made several changes, some of which worked well and others which required some modification or "tweaking." Many of the Nursing Department's changes were dealt with by the closing of a 22 bed ward. They hope to begin interviewing soon to fill two Resident Treatment Worker positions, and then open up six more patient beds.
Superintendent Dr. Daniel Gillette was the final speaker at Friday's program. In answer to the Advisory Board's question about the possibility of the Governor's Task Force Committee again being part of the picture regarding possible MHI closures, Dr. Gillette said that he did not feel that would be an issue this year, though he also said he wouldn't be surprised if the issue doesn't resurface in five years or so, saying that there has been talk about closing an MHI for 25 years now.
The Task Force which toured the state's MHIs last year made a recommendation to close the Mount Pleasant facility and that was rejected. A suggestion to close Clarinda's facility likewise failed to win approval. Gillette said his main concern this year is the budget.
The MHI lost a Physician's Assistant to early retirement, and they have received permission to fill that position; two full-time Psychiatrist positions are unfilled, but the MHI has contracted with a private psychiatrist from Sioux City and he has been coming to Cherokee several days a week, but less than full-time, so he does not receive any benefits.
The MHI has also filled the Human Resources position and is conducting interviews for the Business Manager position.
MHI lost 39 employees this year, but Dr. Gillette feels that they will eventually be able to re-hire 14 full-time employees.