116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — It’s an important time for Johnson County’s GuideLink Center.
Years in the making, the mental health and substance access center this month celebrated three months of its soft opening with the facility’s crisis stabilization unit opening Feb. 15 to law enforcement and mobile crisis unit referrals. On May 12, the center’s sobering unit opened to referrals, as well. And on Tuesday, the access center will open its final two units — medically monitored detox and crisis observation services — as well as open to walk-in clients on a 24/7 basis.
“The first three months have certainly been eye-opening,” said Abbey Ferenzi, GuideLink’s executive director. “You just don’t know how it’s going to go until you’re in here. It’s been very encouraging.”
The $6 million facility is the final piece in the puzzle for Johnson County’s re-imagining of how it responds to those dealing with mental health or substance abuse crises.
Since May 2015, local law enforcement agencies have been training in crisis intervention — an approach that teaches participants not only how to recognize when someone is having a mental health crisis, but how to de-escalate the situation. However, even with that training, officers were still often left with only two options in those situations: take a person to jail or the hospital emergency room. In many cases, neither destination was ideal.
The GuideLink Center now provides a third option. And while the access center won’t suit everyone, it can still be a starting point.
“There’s no wrong reason to come to the GuideLink Center, even if what you’re looking for isn’t here,” Ferenzi said, referencing the facility’s name. “We’re going to guide you in the right direction.”
The center says that individuals do not have to be a resident of Johnson County to receive its services. Individuals over 18 years old will receive services regardless of their ability to pay, and insurance may be billed if it is available.
While the facility, at 300 Southgate Ave. in Iowa City, was always intended to welcome walk-ins around the clock, Ferenzi said the idea was to start slow and work out the kinks along the way. The first unit to open was crisis stabilization services, which is for individuals who are having a mental health crisis. Clients receive a psychiatric assessment, therapy and work with a crisis support specialists to ensure their needs are met.
As of last week, 84 people have been served in that program, Ferenzi said. The average length of stay has been about 2.5 days.
Staff at the GuideLink Center can help individuals in crisis get back on medication, get in touch with a therapist outside of the center or connect with additional resources, such as housing. CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank, Abbe Community Mental Health Center, Prelude Behavioral Services, the Penn Center and Johnson County Ambulance are the agencies housed in the GuideLink Center; and Ferenzi said they partner with outside agencies such as Shelter House and area hospitals. The idea is to make sure that no clients are falling through service gaps.
“All of those community partners — I’ve got to tell you, you really see things happening,” she said. “It’s great.”
Ferenzi said a majority of the people served in crisis stabilization likely would have gone to the emergency room.
Less tested is the sobering unit, which had only four referrals as of last week, Ferenzi said. “Which is not too surprising,” she said. “We definitely put the word out there. Things like that ebb and flow.”
The sobering unit is designed to be a safe place for anyone who is intoxicated and needs care, whether it’s a one-time issue or a chronic one. There is no charge to use the sobering unit and “essentially no strings attached,” Ferenzi said.
“Sometimes individuals who are intoxicated are not safe and you might have a concerned friend or family member,” she said. “It might be more helpful to be in that monitored environment. … People make mistakes. Sometimes they over indulge.”
Ferenzi said the sobering unit is not designed for someone with a high blood alcohol content or who is unconscious and needs emergency care.
When it comes online Tuesday, crisis observation will be for those suffering from an “acute need or crisis,” such as suicidal ideation, Ferenzi said. A psychiatric nurse will observe the person in a specific area for up to 23 hours. If necessary, that individual could then transition to crisis stabilization for up to five days.
“The idea here is to be as fluid as possible based on the person’s needs,” she said.
Medically monitored detox will be a unit to help those detoxing from alcohol, opioids or benzodiazepines. Withdrawing from those substances can be dangerous and require assistance from a medical team.
Iowa City Police Capt. Denise Brotherton said the GuideLink Center has been a welcome resource, particularly for keeping people out of the emergency room. The police department has had 32 referrals to GuideLink, far more than any other law enforcement agency in the county.
“I think certainly the more resources we have in town, the more options it gives us,” Brotherton said. “Even if it helps just a couple of people, it’s worth it.”
For Johnson County Board of Supervisors member Rod Sullivan, the opening of the GuideLink Center is the realization of a decadelong project and a much-needed resource in the community.
“It’s critical, it’s just critical,” Sullivan said. “For a long time, we’ve known that we needed different options, but the option wasn’t there. We’re in a much, much better place. I’m very much looking forward to the end of the year when we have a good chunk of data to see how many people were diverted from the jail or ER.”
Ferenzi is encouraged, as well, but she notes this is only the beginning for what GuideLink can offer those in need.
“We want to get these core services going,” she said. “All of us around here are interested in filling the gaps. This is just the start.”
Comments: (319) 339-3155; firstname.lastname@example.org