Government

Johnson County Supervisors buy land for crisis intervention facility

Center would be alternative to jail for those in crisis

IOWA CITY — Johnson County supervisors voted 3-1 Thursday to buy land for a new Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center, a place that would give police a place to take people in crisis instead of to jail or an emergency room.

The county will pay $1.35 million for five parcels — totaling 5.34 acres — at 270 Southgate Ave., just east of South Gilbert Street.

Matt Miller, who was hired in May to manage the project, said a period of “due diligence” will follow to ensure the property will work for a such a facility and to learn how it might be affected by flooding.

“I do not believe the government, I do not believe anyone, should be building in the flood plain,” Supervisor Janelle Rettig said in voting against the purchase. “I am completely supportive of the programs, supportive of all the programs. ... I just don’t think we should be putting essential services in flood plains.”

Supervisor Mike Carberry was absent for the vote.

Miller said there is currently one building on the property, but it would likely be torn down if construction moves forward.

“It seems ideal, but there’s still a lot of investigation we have to do. So we’ll work with a civil engineer and do environmental testing,” Miller said.

That review could take about 90 days or longer.

“In general, it seems like it’s going to work,” he said. “But, once again, we don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”

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As envisioned, the facility would provide services such as sobering and crisis stabilization units, as well as a low-barrier homeless shelter, meaning someone would not have to be sober to be admitted.

The center is intended to provide law enforcement a more appropriate place to take people who are in a mental health crisis, rather than to jail or a hospital emergency room.

The site is near the Shelter House’s 70-bed shelter and Prelude Behavioral Services.

“It just seems to be a prime location for all of those entities that we plan to work with,” Miller said, adding it’s also an easy trip to law enforcement facilities and hospitals.

“It’s fairly easy for anyone to get to, friends and family, if they’re dropping somebody off there.”

Johnson County and Iowa City began sending law enforcement officers to crisis intervention training in 2015, and the desire for a local “access center” grew out of that.

Planners also dropped the term “access center in favor of the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center working title.

The Iowa Legislature passed a mental health bill this year calling for six different types of “access centers” across the state — and concerns surfaced locally that “access center” wasn’t descriptive enough about what the Johnson County center would do.

LINN COUNTY

Linn County also has sent law enforcement officers to crisis intervention training, and officials are exploring a crisis intervention center in Linn County.

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The county is in the process of hiring a project manager for an access center, and the manager’s duties will include finding suitable locations within Cedar Rapids, Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

Reporter Mitchell Schmidt contributed to this article.

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