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Proposed DHS cuts may impact Cherokee MHI

Friday, January 14, 2011

Report of 29 positions on the chopping block

DES MOINES -- The leader of Iowa's Department of Human Services warned Wednesday that his agency likely will face more layoffs, service cutbacks and program eliminations, including possible cuts at the Mental Health Institute in Cherokee and three other Iowa MHI's.

One proposal would cut 12 of the current 25 adult psychiatric beds at Cherokee, but would make no change to to the total of 12 beds for children and adolescents. According to reports, this plan would eliminate about 29 positions.

The cuts are in response to an additional $27.3 million reduction in spending needed to meet savings set by Gov. Chet Culver and the Legislature for the current budget year that ends June 30.

DHS Director Charles Krogmeier, who will leave his post Friday when the new Branstad administration takes over, called the situation "sobering" in outlining options to the Iowa Council on Human Services. He said the available choices were "painful" and would result in "shortages of needed services," but would assure that all remaining DHS programs would have enough staff and support to function and meet licensing requirements.

He said his agency's $27.3 million share of the overall $83.7 million reduction in operating funds across all state agencies exceeded his estimates and poses significant challenges given that there are less than six months remaining in the current fiscal year.

"The impacts are most severe at the DHS institutions and will involve reductions in force and bed reductions," he said.

"The cuts in field offices, child support, central office and most program operations can be managed this year without further reductions in force or drastic program changes. However, as these reductions also continue into (fiscal year 2012), we will be carefully considering options for next year," he said.

The DHS director said consideration is being given to eliminating about 188 full-time positions - 136 of which are currently filled. "Many more will be held vacant," he said.

Krogmeier said one "plan B" alternative might be to phase out the substance-abuse beds at Mount Pleasant and the adult psychiatric beds at Clarinda. He also envisioned shifting some funds away from Mount Pleasant, Woodward, and Glenwood to other facilitie - steps that would allow for maintaining the gero-psych unit at Clarinda through June 30 and reducing the impact at Toledo. Under that scenario, he said positions would be considered for elimination at Mount Pleasant and the agency would not fill vacant slots at Woodward and Glenwood.

"All of this is happening in a climate of uncertainty. We have a new governor, a new political makeup at the Statehouse, and of course, a new director," said Krogmeier, who will be replaced by incoming Governor-elect Terry Branstad's choice of Chuck Palmer to be DHS director.

"I have been consulting with Chuck Palmer about all of this. A final decision on which course we will follow needs to be made in the next few days in order for discussions with employee representatives to occur and for layoff plans and other steps to be taken," Krogmeier said in a memo to DHS staff. "As we have learned from past budget crises, this may not be the final resolution of all of these impacts. This is what I know at this time. The exact management of these reductions may very well change before it is all implemented."

State Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, said the proposed cut is "deep" and would put critical direct services to people most in need at risk.

"It would mean chaos," said Hatch, who called upon Branstad to consider a supplemental appropriation to cover DHS needs this fiscal year given that projections call for the state will have a $331 million ending balance by June 30.

"The decision to reduce direct services that would hurt Iowans under care at our institutions and in our substance-abuse programs cannot be accepted," he said. "With an anticipated $331 million ending balance, I am asking Gov.-elect Branstad to support a supplemental appropriation to reinstate these critical positions. It would go a long way in showing that we can understand the severity of the cuts and the importance of providing services to Iowans in need."

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