CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids-based mental and behavioral health services provider has been awarded a multimillion-dollar grant from the federal government in an effort to provide mental health services in a timelier manner.
The Abbe Center for Community Mental Health in Cedar Rapids was one of 52 organizations nationwide — and the only one in Iowa — awarded a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic grant of $2 million annually for two years.
The purpose of the grant, which was awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is to increase access to and improve the quality of community behavioral health services nationwide.
“The No. 1 issue right now in behavioral health is being able to access services on a timely basis,” said Abbe Center Executive Director Kathy Johnson. “This grant is wonderful in that it will provide us the opportunity to build up that capacity so that we can offer that timely access.”
The Abbe Center — a Linn County mental health services provider — intends to expand services it already offers so patients can access them more quickly and to increase outreach and engagement efforts for their more at-risk patients.
Johnson said it will hire approximately 20 additional clinical staff, including psychiatry, therapy and outreach workers.
The Abbe Center served about 7,200 individuals in Linn County last year, and Johnson anticipates expanding capacity for an additional 1,000 people annually through the grant.
The two Cedar Rapids hospitals — UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s and Mercy Medical Center — saw more than 7,500 emergency room visits alone for mental health reasons. The fastest expanding age group are children, Johnson said.
“We know part of that is because they don’t have timely access to outpatient care,” she said. “So we’re hoping, with the grant allowing us to build our capacity, that we might be able to prevent some of those emergency room visits by having services more available.”
Abbe Center officials also aim to bring the average wait time to see a psychiatrist — about 26 days — down to around 10 days.
Johnson said they also hope to hire more peer and family support workers, who would help patients and their families navigate the mental health system.
Given the opioid crisis and the rising overdose rates in the state, Johnson said Abbe Center hopes to take on more patients for medically assisted treatment, or the use of medications in combination with behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorder.
Johnson said the award also allows the organization’s staff to improve care coordination with its patients. Not only can the center screen for chronic conditions and share the results with primary care providers, but area patients also will see more integrated mental health screenings in a primary care setting.
There is a potential for renewal after the grant is completed, according to federal officials. However, Johnson said they hope their additional clinical staff are self-sustaining within two years if the funding does dry up.
The Abbe Center is affiliated with AbbeHealth, a regional nonprofit that offers mental health and aging services to more than 17,000 adults and children a year in Linn, Benton, Buchanan, Delaware, Fayette, Johnson, Jones, Cedar and Iowa counties.
AbbeHealth is an affiliate of UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids.
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