Cottonwood employees testify in hearing to keep center open

Cottonwood employees testify in hearing to keep center open

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Cottonwood employees and others took their fight to keep the facility open to Jefferson City Thursday. Therapists, counselors, parents and state representatives made the trip to speak out during a committee hearing on Health and Mental Services. They also met with Governor Jay Nixon who put the facility on the chopping block in an attempt to balance the budget.

According to Bob Dale, a mental health professional who testified at the hearing, the group was well received.

He says the group remains hopeful. "Representative Kathryn Swan and I met with Dr. Nitzel in the Governor's office. Dr. Nitzel is the Policy advisor to Governor Nixon. The conversation focused on the state's budget and whether other funds could be used to support CRTC. Dr. Nitzel indicated that closing the facility was purely a matter of finance, helping to bring the state's budget into balance in light of the reduced revenue stream created by the recent veto overrides," said Dale.

According to Dale, he was told the next override session is scheduled for September.

Depending on what happens at the next veto session, Dale feels there is hope Cottonwood will stay open.

"It was apparent to everyone in attendance that the Representatives there were largely in favor of keeping cottonwood open. State Representative Jeff Grisamore, District 047, was the only member of the committee that said he agreed with closing the facility," according to Dale.

Sam Hite, a clinical therapist at Cottonwood also says he feels the trip went well. He credited those who spoke on behalf of patients with the well-received nature of the presentation. He said one mother really made an impact on he son.

"She reported that he soon began turning his anger inwards and began hurting himself, and becoming suicidal. He had been in several facilities, including Cottonwood spending virtually his entire childhood institutionalized. She was very emotional, making it difficult for her to speak at times. With some difficulty, she finally managed to choke out the announcement that her child would be starting college this year. Her testimony was that he is living in the community, and doing well. She credited Cottonwood and the other facilities for his wellness and success. It was really powerful and clearly moved everyone in the room," said Hite.

Hite told us the workers discussed strategy for the rest of the year with State Representative Kathryn Swan and agreed on some action steps.

"We learned that there will be another hearing in August in which the Cottonwood issue will receive more attention," said Hite. "This of course, provides us with additional opportunity to preset our case and with certainty, we plan to attend the meeting in August. All in all, it was a very uplifting day and we left the capital feeling renewed with hope and energy."

"The Governor's office acknowledged that there is no issue regarding the quality of care provided and the decision for closure is a financial one. His office noted the planned closure of other facilities and programs throughout the state, as well," Rep. Swan told us after the trip.

"During the committee hearing, committee members expressed their own concerns about the closure of Cottonwood and the uncertain future regarding the placement of children with severe emotional disorders. I expressed our need for accurate information to formulate a plan for the facility. The Director of the Department of Mental Health assured us that I would be able to obtain the necessary data," Swan said.

According to Swan the group's plan will be presented to the Department of Mental Health, the House Appropriations a Committee - Health, Mental Health and Social Services and the Governor's office prior to the August Appropriations Committee hearing.

Dale says the fight will continue, he tells Heartland News Saturday, July 26th they'll continue to ask people to show support for Missouri Children by asking them to sign a petition at the mall in Cape.

On, Tuesday, July 29, they're planning: Call the Legislators Day.

Then on August 2, the Save Cottonwood Rally is set to be hosted by Lawless Harley Davidson from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. with food for sale, lots of door prizes, 4 live bands, activities, and guest speakers.

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