116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Access centers are something new in Iowa — places where people in crisis can go or be brought by police, rather than going to an emergency room or to jail.
Iowa has five of the centers, with more to come. The centers are designed to be one-stop shops — where someone having problems can be assessed and treated and, if necessary, referred to services
The centers also allow for repeat visits, if individuals experience more than one crisis or don’t fully accept help the first time.
The centers — inspired by similar centers in other states — are designated by Iowa’s 14 Mental Health and Disability Regions.
“We’re not replacing hospitals, but an access center is just another tool to get people the help they need,” said Erin Foster, director of the Linn County Mental Health Access Center in Cedar Rapids.
“It’s like when my kids are sick and I take them to urgent care instead of to a hospital. Many of the rural counties only had area hospitals to rely on, but now these centers will help fill the gap. We want to get people in crisis that immediate help.”
Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers, who helped plan the center, at 501 13th St. NW, said he knows the facility wouldn’t solve every problem.
But he also believes the services were needed “yesterday” and couldn’t get the center completed fast enough. Access centers have existed in other states for years and have been successful on cutting down hospital and jail stays for those in crisis.
Becky Shelton, with Community Health Centers of Southern Iowa Access Center in Osceola, said anyone struggling with mental health issues “should reach out to (their local) center, even if they’re not sure where they fit in. We’re here to help and assist. We have 10 to 12 providers on a regular basis.”
House File 2456, the bill establishing access centers in Iowa, was signed into law in March 2018. It requires centers to provide short-term assistance to Iowans in crisis situations.
It called for the centers to have 16 or fewer beds to provide immediate, short-term assessments for individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues who do not need “significant support.” The centers do not provide long-term inpatient care and treatment.
The bill also said the centers should provide detoxification and crisis observation and stabilization services.
- Assessment to determine why an individual came in
- Mental health and/or substance use screening and suicide screening
- Crisis stabilization — evaluation and treatment for anyone needing observation for more thorough evaluation
- Subacute services — treatment for more intensive mental health issues
- Substance abuse services, psychiatric evaluations, counseling services and peer support services
- Additional resources and referrals.
Those “additional services” that some centers offer include sobering units, medically monitored detox units and medical and dental services.
Services seem to be evolving as the centers open and learn what is needed in different areas of the state. More centers will be designated this year.
Two of the newest centers opened in Eastern Iowa in February and March — Johnson County’s GuideLink Center in Iowa City and the Linn County Mental Health Access Center in Cedar Rapids.
Abbey Ferenzi, executive director of GuideLink, at 300 Southgate ave., said there’s no wrong reason to come to GuideLink, even if it’s not what a person needs because the staff can “guide and link people to what they might need outside of the center.”
Working in community mental health as a counselor for 17 years and with Abbe Mental Health Center, she knows the gaps in the system and what mental health issues can result in someone ending up in emergency rooms and jails.
Linn County’s Foster, also with a background in mental health and substance abuse, agreed, saying the center is a “no-judgment place where we understand the wide spectrum of crisis and are prepared to assist in any way that we can. We have some of the best organizations and people working here who know so much about how to navigate this difficult system.”
Foster and Ferenzi gave examples of successful outcomes for clients to show how the center can help someone in crisis.
At the Linn County center, for example, one client had been referred for crisis stabilization. But then Foundation 2 and Abbe staff came into the conversation to brainstorm what else was needed. The patient stayed three days and received about eight services provided in one place.
“That was the true essence of how an access center should work,” Foster said.
Ferenzi cited one case involving a homeless man who had been admitted to the sobering unit a few times. But on his third visit, after a paramedic and nurse at the center had been working with him, he decided to go into detox and then agreed to go into residential treatment. He was homeless because of his substance abuse issue so this may have led to a life change.
The Linn County center started out accepting walk-ins 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and isn’t accepting referrals from law enforcement at this time. Officers usually get more crisis type calls between 3 and 10 p.m. and the center is
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