CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County could put mental health and substance abuse intervention services in a new center that — like one under consideration in Johnson County — would give police an alternative to taking someone to jail.
Supervisor Ben Rogers on Monday told the Linn County Board of Supervisors of his plan to request approval of a $3.5 million project that would be funded through the county’s mental health tax levy. The plan would convert an existing space to provide crisis stabilization, detoxification and sobering units, as well as mental health assessments.
Rogers said the access center would provide a safe space for people in a crisis and give police another option to jail or hospitals for some.
“This is our opportunity to create an actual facility where hospitals and jails and law enforcement can start to divert people with mental illnesses and substance abuse,” Rogers said.
The board could decide on the proposal as soon as Wednesday. If approved, the funds would be included in the county’s fiscal 2019 budget, which has not been finalized. A project manager would lead the effort, Rogers added.
The proposal comes as Johnson County officials develop plans to build a 40,000-square-foot access center, which has been estimated at between $5 and $10 million.
The facility, modeled after similar centers in San Antonio, Texas, and Kansas City, would include sobering and crisis stabilization units as well as a low-barrier homeless shelter and telemedicine, among other features.
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But while Johnson County’s plan involves a new structure, Rogers said his hope is to renovate an existing space and save money. But a space has not been identified, he added.
Supervisor Brent Oleson said his main concern is making sure the board has as many details — including initial and ongoing costs and staffing — as possible before committing to it.
“It’s not that I’m opposed to this. It sounds like a great idea, but as with all great ideas, I want to know details,” he said.
Service providers including Foundation 2, the Abbe Center and Penn Center, as well as Eastern Iowa Health Center, Mercy Cedar Rapids and UnityPoint have been involved in discussions of a Linn County access center, Rogers said.
As Johnson and Linn counties consider their own access centers, a December Iowa Department of Human Services report lists the creation of six regional access centers in the state by the end of 2019.
There are 14 Mental Health and Disability Services regions in Iowa, which should provide startup funds for the establishment of the centers, the report states.
The locations for the six regional centers is not determined in the report, and it has yet to be determined whether local access centers in Linn and Johnson counties would have any impact on the regional plan.
The region that includes Linn and Johnson counties also includes Benton. Bremer, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, Iowa and Jones counties.
Rogers said he would support a Linn County center regardless of the state plan.
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Gov. Kim Reynolds spokeswoman Brenna Smith said in an email that the governor believes there is a need for access centers in Iowa and that local and regional programming could work in tandem.
“We would encourage centers to work with the mental health regions to see how they fit into the new system once it’s implemented,” Smith said in the email.
Peter Zevenbergen, former chief executive of the Wyandot Inc. mental health center in Kansas City, who played a pivotal role in creating the Kansas City’s Rainbow Mental Health Facility, said local access centers are more successful than regional ones.
Zevenbergen, who now lives in Marion and spoke at Monday’s meeting, said regions create challenges. If a regional center is a considerable distance from the hospital or law enforcement agency holding the individual, travel time necessary becomes a barrier.
“When you get into regions ... it sounds like a great idea, but it’s not going to get used,” he said.
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