IOWA CITY — A new Johnson County center intended to improve urgent mental health care and crisis intervention services is days away from completion.
Matthew Miller, project manager for the GuideLink Center at 300 Southgate Ave. in Iowa City, said the building is “about 95 percent complete.”
“Substantial completion is expected by Jan. 2,” Miller said recently. “We could take over the building and do what we need to do to be in there.”
When the GuideLink Center opens — Miller is hoping for early February — it will be home to sobering and crisis stabilization units, as well as a low-barrier shelter.
Police officers and sheriff’s deputies have been training in crisis intervention since 2015 to better recognize when someone is having a mental health issue or other crisis. But even with that training, those calls still often result in someone going to jail or the emergency room.
The GuideLink Center is planned as a long-sought-after third option.
“We’ve worked very hard to find alternatives to arrest,” said Iowa City Police Sgt. Andrew McKnight. “To have additional resources to avoid incarceration, to avoid trips to the ER is a good thing.”
The center is supported by property taxes levied for mental health services, Medicaid funds and other sources.
Linn County is opening a similar center at the site of the former Linn County Public Health building, 501 13th St. NW in Cedar Rapids.
Due to the holidays, Miller said it will likely be Jan. 4 or 5 before a final occupancy inspection can be scheduled with the city. From there, Johnson County’s Information Technology team still will need to outfit the building, and furniture will need to be installed.
Miller said staff working at the GuideLink Center also will need time to walk through work flows and get a feel for the space. GuideLink officials are considering a soft opening while they get used to the building, Miller said.
“We would just accept drop offs from law enforcement so we can work through everything and make sure the kinks are worked out,” he said.
Most of the staff for the GuideLink Center has been hired, with only a few positions left to be filled. Miller said the facility will employ about 40 people from various entities including the county, Penn Center, Prelude Behavioral Services and AbbeHealth.
“Everybody will work together as GuideLink employees,” Miller said. “We want this to appear as we’re doing business as GuideLink. We’re all one team.”
Once fully operational, the facility will have a capacity of 38 people including 10 in the sobering units, 16 in overnight rooms for detoxification or stabilization and 12 in short-term crisis observation.
Miller said he’s been meeting with groups at the University of Iowa, the Iowa City Downtown District, Project Better Together, city councils, law enforcement agencies and others to make sure the word is out about the opening. The feedback has been “really positive,” he said.
McKnight said police are eager to start using the facility.
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“Officers are excited to have this as an additional resource at their disposal,” he said. “Having them all in the same building is exciting.”
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