Terry Branstad’s Mental Health Care Crisis

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad during an interview with the Associated Press during the National Governor’s Association Winter Meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Guest post from House Democratic Leader Mark Smith

Dead last.

That’s Iowa’s new ranking in mental health beds available for our citizens.  It’s an embarrassing ranking and a critical situation for Iowa families with loved ones suffering from mental illnesses.

The ranking comes from the non-partisan Treatment Advocacy Center in a report that came out last week. It found Iowa has just 64 state beds for mental health patients, which translates into two beds for every 100,000 Iowans.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. The report also found that 60% of those mental health beds are already being used by inmates in our correctional system. That leaves just 26 state beds available for 3.1 million Iowans.

It means too many Iowans have to wait for weeks, months or even years to get the mental health services they desperately need.  It means hospitals have to hold patients for months trying to find placement.  It means law enforcement officials spend days and days trying to find placements for our citizens who need mental health services.  It means we’re wasting millions of our tax dollars every year locking up Iowans with mental health issues instead of treating them.

While there have been warning signs for years about the lack of services available for those suffering from mental illnesses, the situation has gotten dramatically worse in Iowa over the last two years under the reign of Governor Terry Branstad.

Two years ago, Branstad unilaterally shut down two mental health institutes (MHI) in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda without approval from lawmakers.  Closing those two facilities meant we lost 83 beds.  Even worse, those closings led to the deaths of three Iowans who were moved out of those two facilities.

Just last month, Branstad struck again.  He gave no warning and unilaterally closed down 15 psychiatric beds for children at the state’s mental health institute in Independence.  Of course, Branstad said no patients were being treated, but that’s because his administration directed staff to stop admitting patients months ago.

It’s no coincidence Branstad waited until we had adjourned for the year before shutting it down.  He did the same thing closing down the facilities in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda as well as the Toledo Juvenile Home for girls back in 2013.

I have spent the majority of my adult life working with people with mental illnesses.  The reality of mental health treatment – and the biggest challenge our prisons, law enforcement, and health care providers face today – is keeping patients safe in state or private mental health beds while implementing proper medication regimes, initiating proper therapy, providing community support, and developing a plan for ongoing therapy.

Right now, there are a total 731 mental beds (public and private) available in Iowa. However, statistics show there are about 123,000 Iowans suffering from a serious mental illness.

Most of the patients in those beds should be transferred, over time and with the proper transition, to community based care. To do so will require more psychiatrists trained and working in communities as well as additional supporting personnel such as Psychiatric Advanced Nurse Practitioners, Social Workers, Psychologists, Physician Assistants, and Counselors.

The truth is we don’t have enough capacity in the community based mental health network to meet the need we are facing right now. And that’s the fundamental problem that Branstad and Republicans refuse to address.

By ignoring a severe shortage of mental health services and cutting mental health beds, Branstad and Republicans have turned a bad situation into a terrible crisis.

Dead last. It’s a ranking Branstad and Republicans have earned.


by Mark Smith
Posted 6/24/16

40 Comments on "Terry Branstad’s Mental Health Care Crisis"

  • As a social worker, I have worked in Iowa in the mental health field since 1980. I started with DHS, in a 7 county area. My job was to check on clients at Clarinda, Glenwood, and Mt. Pleasant on a regular basis. The Glenwood facility started out soon after the Civil War as a home for homeless children. At Clarinda, I toured the basement once, and learned how people were “cared for” 100 years ago! I helped several local group homes start up, and worked with people in their own homes. From my direct experience, I feel strongly that we must continue special centers for people with special needs, and not bunch them together with criminals! It can not be called progress to place dependent mentally disabled people together with criminals!

    • Right on Danial,,They are doing it here in Missouri too,,For profit prison and jail systems,no money to be made from mentally ill, just Spent. All of these type of politicians have to go away,and soon. They have created a huge mess of our States and our Country. They should be ashamed,but they are to ignorant to be !!!

    • So what is your answer? Some of these patients can NOT live out in the community. So do you know where they try to put them? Nursing homes.

    • I full heartedly agree. Mental Health worker laid off from Mt pleasant now working at Independence MHI. This population is volnerable enough, they do not deserve to be treated as criminals. Iowa
      Republicans do what is right and humane for our Mentally ill, and disabled population. Iowa leaders we need to take care of our own, not ship them to neighboring states, how humiliatING and shameful it that?

    • Well said just retired from the prison system and too many in there that should be in group homes or mental health facilities

  • We need a class action suit, and sue the pants off the the Govenor! We must fight back! We must demand services! Let’s make his pocket book hurt!
    Who is with me? Who will lead the way?

    • He is already has a suit filed against him for breaking the law…I copied this from the Des Moines Register from July 13.
      The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees said Monday that it filed suit in Polk County District Court against Branstad and Department of Human Services Director Charles Palmer.
      The suit seeks to force Branstad to reopen the state mental hospitals at Mount Pleasant and Clarinda, which the administration closed last month. The suit cites a section of Iowa Code spelling out that the state shall have mental hospitals at those two locations and at Cherokee and Independence.
      “Iowa law clearly states that the state of Iowa shall operate Mental Health Institutes in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda,” state AFSCME President Danny Homan said in a news release. “This was the law when the governor announced his decision to close these facilities. This was the law when the Legislature passed, with bipartisan support, the funding to keep these facilities open. This was the law when he closed these two facilities. It is still the law today. No one is above the law. That includes the governor. We are filing this lawsuit to hold him accountable for breaking the law.”

  • I’m not sure I understand the statistics in the 2nd & 3rd paragraphs compared to the 10th paragraph?

    • I think the difference is that the figure in the 10th paragraph includes both public and private resources, while the earlier numbers are state (public) only.

  • Just finished reading “The Boys in the Bunkhouse” by Dan Barry and it is a story Gov. Bransted would do well to read, and read AGAIN!
    It deals with the retarded men who were used and abused in the town of Atalissa, Iowa after being brought to Iowa from Texas.

  • Some of those beds would be free’d up if the state would stop handing out prison time for Marijuana charges , it’s a plant that is less of a problem than alcohol!!!! It’s time for new blood in our state capital!!!! These old timers are getting out of control and forgot who they are supposed to be serving!!!! I’m sick and tired of the taxes I pay going to line these idiots pockets!!!

  • Please don’t forget to count the many Licensed Marital and Family Therapists who also provide critically needed mental health care so vital to our state.

    • I am sure Kelly you are going for some of that govt money too!! Everyone has there hands out and i think there is much more to this problem then stated in this biased article. Govt Bandsted is a good person. I am a disabled veteran and he has helped me.

  • I am a mom of a teen age daughter who attempted suicide in 2015. She was placed in Des Moines for 4 days….4 days of treatment for attempting suicide and swallowing over 200 pills. She refused a family meeting, broke her glasses, and had a melt down…does this sound like someone who should’ve been released in 4 days?? She also stated she wasn’t ready to come home and still felt like killing herself. I called my insurance company she was able to stay longer but according to where she was staying the normal stay was no more than 5-6 days even for attempting to kill yourself. I was refusing to get her…they told me a judge could make me get her…so I got her she sat there at release time told them she wasn’t ready to go home. They said bye. I locked up all meds know file cabinet in my locked room. Locked up all my knives. Took her door away. That’s how we lived for over a year. She went to counseling weekly for that year. I never admitted her again to a hospital. What good does it do??? Mental health in Iowa is lacking some MAJOR stuff. Help for teens, and adults for sure stay times for sure when attempting to kill yourself. Mental health needs a serious overhaul asap.

    • So sorry you were forced to live like that. Sad your daughter’s life was not valued by those treating her. I have been in crisis with my son. Ended up getting him admitted to a great hospital in South Dakota. Iowa had no help available and I wasn’t going to let him hurt himself or us.

  • This is a sad thing to read about my home state. A state I also figured I would return to in the future carrying with me my new licensure as a professional clinical counselor, but seeing this article reminds me that there are no fund allocated to the mentally ill in Iowa, therefore no jobs for qualified professionals. It’s a shame really that a state so progressive in so many ways would be so backwards in regards to mental health funding. Don’t they realize that it’s cheaper in the long run to provide good community based treatment then it is to house all these people in prison where they place the mentally ill now?

  • It’s a ranking Brandstad earned. Republicans do not agree with unilateral decision made by the governor. Republicans did not earn the ranking. It’s a generalization.

  • Its so Bumstad cronies can make money from the privatizing of the mental health. With BUMSTAD its his way or the highway. Us Iowans need to showhim the highway

  • Shameful. Where is this man’s compassion? There is also a shameful lack of treatment facilities for additions. I suppose if you have the kind of money he has you don’t have to worry about not getting proper care for your family. Iowa is so much better than this. I am embarrassed for him and us that he continues to be re-elected. People vote against their own best interest. I am hoping this situation gets resolved under new leadership. And that can not come soon enough.

  • I have a son with autism, and when I had to utilize the mental health system for him in 2012 in Iowa, I was appalled at the lack of mental health resources, and it is significantly worse now. MCOs have slashed funding and pay for services, and some aren’t even paying their bills so children aren’t getting services because the providers aren’t being paid, and their pay is already abysmal. They were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore a “reflecting pool” at the governor’s mansion last year at the same time he was closing facilities for mental health and privatizing Medicaid, essentially limiting thousands of people from receiving services, and were having a ceremony to celebrate the pool at Terrace Hill last year. Doesn’t that say it all? I don’t know how he can even look at his reflection. Vote the bum out. And he’s increasing corrections spending, by the way, while he slashes this as well as education in our state. Vote.. be informed – that’s how things will change.

  • Branstad began his second round of governorship by signing the embarrassing Ag Gag bill, which rains down pain and terror for animals in Iowa’s factory farms while lining his pockets with blood money. Now he is focused on decimating mental health services in Iowa. Much care has fallen to housing the mentally ill in nursing care facilities, potentially endangering residents and staff in these facilities. It seems Branstad is in dire and immediate need of these services himself. He should be relieved of his responsibilities as our governor ASAP to actively pursue intense therapy before there won’t even be a jail or prison that will take him.

  • Finally after a three years dealing with the Iowa medical and court system because the only place available that gives him any kind of treatment for someone like my husband is jail and then that just adds more trouble because he is in the wrong system and gets no rehabilitation. Isn’t the main reason for Jail and Prisons is for four major purposes. These purposes are retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation. Retribution means punishment for crimes against society. Depriving criminals of their freedom is a way of making them pay a debt to society for their crimes. At least we finally get some hope for rehabilitating him back into society. Illinois 9 hours away has a perfect inpatient facility that will treatment him and give him the aftercare he needs because there is no inpatient long term specialized treatment in iowa to help someone with mood disorder/bipolar and drug addiction issues escalated from a frontal lobe traumatic brain injury. A very taxing and frustrating journey I would wish on no one.

    • They are either on the streets, or in prison.I am so, so, sorry your husband is in prison instead of getting the help he needs. Mt Pleasant’s Mental Health Institute which Gov. Branted closed 6/2015 had the states only Dual Diognosis unit; which was life changing for so many. Most patients found it very helpful to adress chemical dependence issues while dealing with their Mental Health symptoms. They learned how interrelated the 2 conditions are, and how detrimental substance abuse and Healthy Mental Treament can never successfully go together. Average treatment time was 30 days.

  • It also means that our local county hospitals are often the only option available for these people and they (the hospital and staff) are not equiped for many mental health patients…It could put our Nursing staff in unnessary danger (NOT TO MENTION our loved ones under care in those county hospitals) and undue stress because the law enforcements hands are also often tied and often bring them to those county based hospitals… A BIG GRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!

  • If anyone knows how to become more involved in this area, please let me know. I have a 66 year old mother who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia as well as dementia. Getting her the help she needs is next to impossible.

  • Why do you think Trump likes him so much? He’s better for “America’s” pocket book! Save money to hell with the citizens!

  • I have never (NEVER)! voted for Branstad. When he first took office I labeled him Gov Braindead, and he has never proven me wrong. I sure hope the next one does better.

  • Hi. I’m mentally ill. I have severe depression, severe anxiety, moderate paranoia, persistent suicidal thoughts, and ADHD. Been suffering 25 years, now age 30. There is next to no help for me. The system is overwhelmed. We are suffering and dying out here. I don’t even try to seek professional help anymore because they can’t accommodate any more people.

  • The way we treat our mentally ill is a travesty. If they were diagnosed with cancer instead – the sympathy would never end!! But to have the label of “mentally ill” is nearly as bad as a death sentence!!! And now – because of our governor, it’s almost impossible to get the required care. The only good news is that he’s “been shipped off to China.”

  • People like Branstad have no conscience. These are pathetic little people that we would classify as sociopaths. Terry, just die. Obviously from your photos you appear to be on your last legs…so just go and do it already.

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