116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - After years of planning, Linn County's new Mental Health Access Center is only weeks away from accepting patients.
The $3.5 million center, which Director Erin Foster noted went from idea to reality in six years, will hold a small ribbon cutting ceremony just for staffers on March 5. However, the center, at 501 13th St. NW., will not yet be open to the public.
'We want to do an incremental type opening to ramp services up,” Foster said. 'We can't do a ribbon cutting with patients here, so we will take patients a week or so after.”
Foster said it's more than likely the center will start with patients having behavioral or mental health crises. Once fully open, the center will be available for anyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Anyone having a mental-health crisis or seeking help with substance abuse will be able to walk through the main entry and meet with Foundation 2 staffers in one of nine triage rooms.
'Triage is really basic vitals and they can get to what brought someone in that day,” Foster said. 'The room is not trying to look clinical. It's supposed to feel cozy because people want to feel comfortable.”
Along with Foundation 2, the Area Substance Abuse Council, AbbeHealth and Penn Center are the other agencies that will staff the center. Foster will be the only county employee who works there.
Additionally, the center will have an office dedicated to telehealth - an idea that came out of the COVID-19 pandemic - and a sobering room.
For overnight or longer-stay patients, the center has living rooms and an outdoor space as well as a kitchen. The access center has contracted with Horizons Meals on Wheels, which will deliver food daily.
The center also will be an alternative for law enforcement instead of jail or an emergency room for people in crisis.
When law enforcement officer bring in a potential patient, they do so through a separate garage - a way to keep the patient's confidentiality.
'Law enforcement are the biggest referrals to access centers across the nation,” Foster said.
Law enforcement authorities will need to be let into the building by access center staff and they must go into a separate room from a patient.
'You don't get charged when you come here,” Foster said. 'You are not in custody of law enforcement when you come here.”
Foster said there have also been conversations about being able to have ambulances bring patients to the center.
'Ambulances do not get paid unless they bring someone to a hospital,” Foster said. 'So that needs to change for the billing process as well. For right now, ambulances won't come here.”
There will be other obstacles for the center once it's open, Foster said. In Iowa, mental health funding comes under the Iowa Department of Human Services while resources for substance abuse fall under the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Foster said the purpose of access centers is to combine services both for mental health and substance abuse under one roof.
In pursuing a local center, Foster and others talked with staff at multiple similar centers around the country including San Antonio, Boulder and Kansas City.
Johnson County opened its access center earlier this month - the GuideLink Center in Iowa City.
The big difference between centers in those other states and the new centers in Iowa? Iowa access centers receive no state funding.
'All of them receive state funding,” Foster said. 'And that sets us apart and brings added challenges.”
With no state funding, the counties in each of Iowa's 14 mental health regions levy property taxes to support mental health, disability services and the centers.
The East Central Region covers Linn, Johnson, Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, Iowa and Jones counties.
Last year, the East Central regional board voted to support opening the access centers in Linn and Johnson counties, increasing the regional property tax levy by 3 cents - to 34 cents per $1,000 in taxable property value - for fiscal 2121. That increase provides almost $1.3 million to cover the centers' first year of operational costs. The levy is divided among the nine counties, based on population.
Linn County's center received $600,000 for operations from the region and the county itself invested $660,000 to go toward operations.
'We need the state to recognize that funds need to be together in order to allow the regions to fund those services together,” Foster said.
Foster said another issue the center will see is billing. The center accepts patients with or without insurance.
'But if a patient receives more than one service here, they may have some billing issues as some insurances don't allow patients to receive more than one service a day,” Foster said. 'If we do not change billing, some people will get denied by insurance. It will be a nightmare to get people reimbursed.”
Even with the added challenges, Foster said the centers are needed.
'It's almost like running a marathon and you're running your last mile,” she said of the Linn County center being almost ready to open. 'Because the end result will be amazing.”
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