DES MOINES — The yearly cost of operating Iowa Department of Human Services institutions dropped by more than $26 million since the state closed two mental health institutions in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant and a training school in Toledo, according to a state audit issued Thursday.

Total state general fund expenditures to operate nine DHS institutions in fiscal 2012 stood at nearly $221.55 million.

That number dropped to about $195.3 million by June 30, 2016, after the state shuttered the Toledo facility in 2013 and closed two of four mental health institutions in fiscal 2015, State Auditor Mary Mosiman reported in a new state audit.

During the five fiscal years studied, DHS institutional expenditures decreased by 11.8 percent, with the number of residents/patients served declining by 24.6 percent from 911 in fiscal 2012 to 687 in fiscal 2016.

Staff levels dropped from 2,520 employees in fiscal 2012 to 1,983 employees at the end of fiscal 2016, according to the audit.

The average daily cost per resident/patient increased by 16.9 percent from $664.46 to $776.71 over that same five-year period, the audit found.

The average annualized cost per resident/patient at the six DHS institutions operating in fiscal 2016 ranged from $112,019 at the Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders in Cherokee to $444,251 at the Mental Health Institute in Independence.

The median stay at the two mental health institutes ranged from 10 days to 56 days.

Andy Nielsen, of the state auditor’s office, said the numbers reflect several factors that include the closing of three state institutions and the reduction in staff, as well as a trend of moving away from institutionalized care for mental health and other services to care provided in local group home settings.

“Not a whole lot of surprises” in the audit numbers, Nielsen noted. “You would expect operating expenses to go down with the closures of those, and they did.”

He noted the average overall costs stabilized from $771 per patient per day in fiscal 2015 to nearly $777 the following year, which roughly represented the impact of inflation.

The report, available at the State Auditor’s website, covers the state’s current and former mental health institutions in Cherokee, Clarinda, Independence and Mount Pleasant, two residential resource centers in Woodward and Glenwood, youth training schools in Eldora and Toledo and the CCU for sexual offenders in Cherokee.

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