Johnson County officials discuss Access Center to help those in crisis

Proposed campus could accept mentally ill, homeless to relieve pressure on jail, hospitals

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IOWA CITY — Johnson County government, law enforcement and not-for-profit representatives met Wednesday to discuss possible plans for a future jail alternative and crisis safe space.

A steering committee for the Crisis Intervention Training program in Johnson County developed the concept for the Access Center, which it presented Wednesday morning to officials representing organizations involved in the CIT — which included police, the sheriff’s office, the county board of supervisors, city of Iowa City, Shelter House and the Crisis Center, among others.

The facility is meant to be a safe space for people who are in a crisis but also provide police with an alternative to jail or hospitals, similar to other facilities in San Antonio and Kansas City. The proposal calls for a sobering room, a crisis stabilization unit and a low-barrier shelter.

“So often the services get set up kind of not keeping the person in mind,” said Jessica Peckover, jail alternatives coordinator. “We’re not just wanting to create another cog in the wheel. We have all these different services, but we really want to be intentional about serving this population.”

The steering committee expects the Access Center to be 40,000 square feet over three acres. No site has been identified for the project.

The facility is projected cost between $5 and $10 million — depending on if an existing property is purchased or build new structure.

Annual operating costs are expected to be $3.7 million, including $2.8 in salaries. The committee is expecting to get about $2.1 million in medical services reimbursement.

The Access Center would allow walk-ins, but also would provide a space for police to take the mentally ill, homeless or intoxicated.

Once people show up for help at the center, the idea is first to provide them with safety, food and shelter. Then a case manager would be available to talk about additional services or resources.

The center also is planned to provide some medical services and have law enforcement on hand.

“I think we can understand is there are a wide range of need to be detained because they’re causing some disruption in our public,” said Dr. Rick Dobyns with the UI Hospital and Clinics. “I think we can all agree there are people who are clearly criminal, need to go to our jail. And there are people who clearly are not,” said Dr. Rick Dobyns with the UI Hospital and Clinics.”

“I think the vision of this though is to recognize there are services that are lacking,” said Ron Berg, chief executive officer of Prelude Behavioral Services. “I think the choice is, do we really want to expand the services to our community and make it a better place for everybody?”

The steering committee still needs to determine how the Access Center will be operated — if a single government body should control it, entities form a partnership or a new not-for-profit should be formed.

Peckover said the next CTI stakeholder meeting is tentatively scheduled for next January.

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