Abbe Center Residential Facility Closing

By Forrest Saunders & Alison Sullivan, Reporters

Abbe Center Residential Facility located along County Home Road in Linn County, Iowa. (KCRG/THE GAZETTE)

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By Aaron Hepker

LINN COUNTY, Iowa - Officials with a Linn County community residential care center said financial constraints are causing them to close their doors this fall.

The Abbe Center for Community Care Inc., 1860 County Home Road, provides long-term care and individualized services for about 77 adults with mental illness and is slated to close September 30.

Dan Strellner, Abbe Center for Community Care president, said in a release Wednesday that financial concerns and uncertainty for the future of residential care facilities contributed to the center’s decision to close.

“The good faith and exhaustive efforts over the past 18 months on the part of our staff and board of directors to find a way to continue operations has been exceptional,” Strellner said. “Unfortunately, at this time we have determined it is not financially feasible to sustain this service.”

In the release, Strellner pointed to a $1.4 million reduction in county funding in fiscal year 2013 for service support and the uncertainty of the state’s mental health redesign from a county to a regional service delivery system.

Some local groups were upset following the announcement, including Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who released a statement Wednesday connecting the center’s closure to what he called a “misguided veto” of $13 million for mental health services Gov. Terry Branstad exercised in June. He said the vetoed funds could have aided the Abbe Center.

AFSCME Iowa Council 61, local unions representing state, county, and municipal employees, sided with Hogg and said the closure is a devastating move for the center’s 80 employees.

Brandstad spokesman, Tim Albrecht, said the state’s Iowa Health and Wellness Plan will continue to invest in its mental health services, including more than $115 million for services at the county level.

“As usual Sen. Hogg’s over-heated partisan rhetoric doesn’t match reality,” he said.

However, Mechelle Dhondt, Linn County Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities director, said she sees the closure as a positive move for adults who receive care from the Abbe Center, as many will be moved to 24-hour residential treatment services. She said although the Abbe Center's main facility will close, the 24-hour residential care will remain open along with its affiliate care facilities in Delaware County and Iowa City.

Dhondt said if they need more individualized care they will be directed to these affiliate facilities.

“None of these folks are going to be going out on their own,” she said.

She said the facility’s closure has been impending for the last few years, as the county sees fewer people seeking institutionalized care.

“Institutional settings are kind of going by the way side because people much prefer to be living in a home in the community,” she said.

An Anamosa long-term care facility for mental illness closed earlier this year, citing dwindling funding streams.

Dhondt said over the past two years the Abbe Center has diverted 75 adults to the 24-hour homes. At the homes, a health care assistant is on-call at all times and the four to five residents have more freedom and less structure than the Abbe Center’s main facility.

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