Health

Johnson County mental health crisis center proceeds, but needs $1.5 million in fundraising

Bid for building new mental health center less than expected

The Johnson County Access Center is under construction at 270 Southgate Ave. in south Iowa City. The regional mental hea
The Johnson County Access Center is under construction at 270 Southgate Ave. in south Iowa City. The regional mental health facility is expected to open in December. (Rendering provided by Neumann Monson Architects)
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IOWA CITY — Johnson County will absorb an almost $1.5 million shortfall in fundraising for construction of a mental health access center that is expected to open in December.

Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass said the home stretch of funding needed to complete the $6.4 million center is a “significant amount,” but not impossible to raise. In the meantime, Johnson County is budgeting for the cost of the center, which makes up about 2 percent of the county’s general fund.

“It’s going to be a facility to be very proud of,” Green-Douglass said. “We want people that need the facility to feel comfortable going there. They’re already in a not comfortable situation, and we don’t want the facility to be a barrier to anyone seeking services.”

The county accepted a bid from Merit Construction in September for about $6.4 million, below the anticipated $6.9 million cost of construction.

The county initially contributed $2.05 million from a fund balance and has received $3.6 million in pledges from Johnson County cities and surrounding counties.

The county also is budgeting $468,956 from its general fund to offset Medicaid reimbursements for substance abuse services at the center, which can’t be paid for with tax levies for mental health services. The center’s substance abuse provider is Prelude.

AbbeHealth will be the managing entity of the mental health access center. Other services will be provided by Prelude, the Penn Center and Community Crisis Services.

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The managing entity agreement still is being negotiated with AbbeHealth, but it is expected to provide the center with an executive director, medical director, administrative assistant, custodians and laundry personnel.

“AbbeHealth is supportive of the need for easy access to behavioral health services and look forward to being involved in the project,” AbbeHealth Executive Director Kathy Johnson said in a statement.

The first year of operational costs for the access center will be funded by the East Central Region, which in January approved increasing a levy to provide $1.3 million to support access centers.

The region — one of 14 mental health regions in Iowa — increased the levy from $30.91 to $34 for fiscal 2021. The levy is assessed to each county based on population.

Johnson County’s ask from the region is $491,827.

The center will be attached to a low-barrier overflow shelter. The shelter will be operated by Shelter House and will not be charged rent.

Johnson is the second county in the nine-county East Central mental health region with plans to open a mental health access center.

Plans are rapidly coming together for the Linn County Access Center to open in July.

In 2018, House Bill 2456 signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds called for six centers to be established in Iowa to meet rising mental health and substance abuse needs across the state.

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The first mental health center to open was the Community Health Centers of Southern Iowa last December in Osceola.

Supervisors in other counties in the East Central Region have voiced concern over Linn and Johnson counties opening access centers in the same region only 30 miles from each other.

Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers, however, said the decision is strategic.

“I think our populations are large and diverse enough that having two full-scale access centers is appropriate,” Rogers said at a recent East Central Region meeting.

Rogers said the counties briefly discussed having one access center on the border of the two counties. However, local law enforcement officers indicated they would be unwilling to drive people in need of care to the access center if jails and hospitals were closer.

Rogers argued that the time for law enforcement officers to drop off someone at an access center would be only about 15 minutes — compared with the time an officer might spent with someone in a crisis at an emergency room.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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