The Department of Human Services' (DHS) proposed budget cuts to Iowa's four Mental Health Institutes as announced last week would deal a serious economical blow to the Cherokee MHI.
Although much is merely speculative at this time, according to Cherokee MHI Superintendent Dr. Jason Smith, it is obvious that there will be DHS cuts as newly elected Iowa Governor Terry Branstad follows through on former Governor Chet Culver's recommendations to trim the state's DHS budget.
DHS Director Charles Krogmeier, who left his post Friday when the new Branstad administration took 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.
For Cherokee MHI, that translated into a proposed $2.4 million cut by the end of the fiscal year which was being planned for. However, Dr. Smith said the newly proposed cuts totaled an additional $840,000 for the Cherokee Institution, which "caught us all by surprise."
The Cherokee MHI employs 157 full and part-time workers, with 29 positions to possibly be eliminated if the proposal is finalized by Branstad. The proposal also 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. This plan would eliminate about 29 positions, said Smith.
"We're uncertain about what will happen at this time, but any cuts will have a big impact on our services we offer and on the communities we serve." noted Smith. It will be devastating to us."
The DHS director said consideration is begin given to eliminating about 188 full-time positions in the DHS Institutions - 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 facilities - 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 Branstad's choice of Chuck Palmer to be DHS director.
Smith, also the Director of the Iowa Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders (CCUSO) on the Cherokee MHI Campus, said the budget cut impact, if any, on CCUSO is still unknown at this time.
A major player in the Iowa DHS system, the Cherokee MHI currently serves a 31-bed adult psychiatric program, and a 12-bed children and adolescent program. Cherokee serves a 41-county catchment area throughout Northwest Iowa for adults, and a 56-county catchment area in Western Iowa for children and adolescents.
"A great many people in need of our services and expertise will be adversely impacted by these proposed budget and personnel cuts," emphasized Smith. "Many will will have no place to go for treatment."
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 Governor-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."