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New Plan To Prevent Cottonwood Closure

Brittany Myers

Two local members of the Missouri House of Representatives have developed a plan to prevent the closure of the Cottonwood Residential Treatment Center. Governor Jay Nixon slated the Cape Girardeau facility to close by the end of the year.

Representatives Kathy Swan and Donna Lichtenegger, both Republicans, announced the details at a press conference on Monday.

Swan and Lichtenegger would like to open up Cottonwood’s referral system, add some short-term acute care beds, and include traditional services for individuals between 17 and 21 years old. These steps will bring more patients to Cottonwood and raise more revenue for the 32-bed facility, according to Swan.

“We have the facility. We have the beds. If we keep those beds occupied and we know that there’s a need in southern Missouri for those types of services, then it simply makes sense to provide those services and keep the facility floating,” Swan said.

Swan and Lichtenegger are looking at cutting costs through a new lease and rent agreement and re-negotiating the per diem daily rate for each full bed. Swan also hopes to cut administrative costs by combining upper level positions. They submitted their plan to the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

Cottonwood is one of two facilities in Missouri for children with severe and chronic health illnesses. Cottonwood therapist Sam Hite said his patients are in deep, significant trouble. 

“They come to us after a chronic history of violence towards others, aggression toward family, school members, mates, strangers in the community, neighbors,” Hite said. “They just have difficulty expressing themselves and effectively using coping skills that most of us have.” 

At a time when school shootings are increasingly common, Hite said Missouri is not immune to the type of crisis that has plagued schools across the nation. 

“We don’t have some kind of safety net around us,” Hite said. “The safety net is Cottonwood.”

Cottonwood has a total budget of nearly $5.7 million with a $2.4 million shortfall. Nixon put the facility on the chopping this summer to balance the state’s finances.

House speaker Tim Jones, who was in Cape Girardeau for the press conference, criticized the governor for cutting services for children.

“I believe that this governor is using children, the mentally disabled, as political pawns for his veto messaging and that is simply just wrong,” Jones said.

Cottonwood employees began receiving their layoff notices this week.

A spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Mental Health said director Keith Shafer and Division of Behavioral Health director Mark Stringer are both looking closely at Swan and Lichtenegger’s plan.

Swan is certain that she and Lichtenegger made an impression. 

“We’re willing to work down here to try to make this thing stay open, not just cry and say we need more money in order to do this, please don’t close this,” Swan said. “We see a need for it so therefore we’re motivated to try to figure out a solution for this.”

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