Sub-acute center closure will leave gaps in mental health services in 9 counties

A room at Hillcrest Family Service's subacute mental health unit on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018....
A room at Hillcrest Family Service's subacute mental health unit on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Allison Wong/KCRG-TV9)(KCRG)
Published: Nov. 26, 2019 at 5:44 PM CST
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Hillcrest Family Services in Dubuque is closing its sub-acute center next month, leaving a void for mental health services in nine counties.

The Sub-acute Services Program, located at 7865 Public Safety Way, provides an in-patient option to people with brain health illnesses. It offers support and an option for people who don't need to be hospitalized.

Mae Hingtgen, CEO of the Mental Health and Disability Services for the East Central Region of Iowa, said Hillcrest has the only sub-acute program in the region.

"It’s not only an impact in Dubuque but the entire region that we won’t have this service available anymore," Hingtgen said.

The East Central region includes Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Delaware,

Dubuque, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, and Linn counties. Hingtgen said not having this service available could put a strain on other community agencies.

"The challenges that we could face would be to our hospitals and to our sheriff’s department," Hingtgen said. "Certainly sometimes when people are facing instability, they might engage in behaviors that would require law enforcement involvement.”

"We want to make sure that we’re providing the services that we can to help people to be stable so they’re not creating an additional burden on our law enforcement or on hospital services," Hingtgen added.

Joyce McDermott, Director of Psychiatric Services at MercyOne in Dubuque, said her department has referred patients to the sub-acute center. It's also helped Mercy patients once they're done with treatment.

"We may admit to sub-acute from the inpatient side if the person is ready for discharge but not quite stable enough for the previous level of living," McDermott said.

McDermott is sad to see Hillcrest closing this facility, especially because Mercy is usually at capacity.

"We pretty much are at capacity, or very close, almost all the time," McDermott said.

A press release from Hillcrest states the organization is closing the sub-acute center because it's been "running at deficits for nearly a year." Hingtgen said this certainly highlights a need for more mental health funding.

"I definitely think that part of the challenge to Hillcrest in deciding to discontinue this service was funding, and the rate that they were being reimbursed through Iowa Department of Human Services and Medicaid specifically," Hingtgen said. “I think it created quite the challenge for them so definitely think that increased funding would have kept sub-acute beds open at Hillcrest and provide the opportunity for other providers to provide this type of service as well.”