What's an access center?

An access center or crisis intervention facility is meant to serve as a midpoint for people experiencing substance-abuse or mental health issues.

Modeled after similar centers in San Antonio, Texas, and Kansas City, Kan., access centers being discussed locally would take in clients for immediate needs, but then set them down the path for additional services, treatment or housing.

Clients typically only stay for a few hours or up to about a week, depending on the situation.

“The idea is not that they stay in these centers for long periods of time, but that (the centers) get them to the appropriate place for their level of care. It’s sort of an access point for them to come in,” said Matt Highland, Iowa Department of Human Services spokesman.

Main story: Linn County joins growing statewide discussion on access centers >

One of the key benefits of an access center is the ability to channel people away from a night’s stay in an expensive hospital bed, when appropriate.

“The whole idea around an access center is to divert people away from some of the more costly services,” Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said. “I think more importantly than just cost is finding a setting that is appropriate to their level of mental illness or substance abuse.”

Major Steve Dolezal, with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department and member of a county committee focused on the access center discussion, said a center also could keep people out of already crowded jails.


“There are times when we can divert somebody away and get them the services they need for low-level crimes,” Dolezal said.

By bringing together organizations across multiple sectors, access centers offer many services, including crisis stabilization, detoxification and sobering units, as well as mental health assessments.

Johnson County’s proposal adds a low-barrier homeless shelter and telemedicine to that list.

Those offerings often reach an underserved population, Highland said.

“There’s a need for that, and that’s what this is trying to address — that middle group, between the very mild mental health and disability needs and the very severe. There’s that sort of gap in services,” he said.

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