CEDAR RAPIDS — When construction began earlier this year on the Linn County Mental Health Access Center, officials hoped for a summer opening in July or August.
After the coronavirus pandemic hit, the grand opening for the Linn County center, 501 13th St. NW in Cedar Rapids, was tentatively pushed back to October. The goal was to give time for construction to be completed and for staff to be trained on coronavirus safety procedures.
The East Central Region of Iowa’s Mental Health and Disability Services had voted in January to support the opening of the crisis intervention center in Linn County and a separate one in Johnson County.
The counties in each of Iowa’s 14 mental health regions impose property taxes to support their share of the region’s levy. The East Central Region includes Linn, Johnson, Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, Iowa and Jones counties.
To help pay for the new access centers, the East Central Region’s board voted to increase the tax levy 3 cents for fiscal 2021, from 31 cents to 34 cents. The increase provides $1.3 million in operational costs to the centers in the first year.
The centers will work with law enforcement, schools and hospitals to provide a location to help people in crisis without placing them in jail cells or hospital rooms.
When the Linn County center is complete, Foundation 2, the Abbe Center and the Penn Center will provide mental health services there.
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Johnson County plans on opening its access center, named the GuideLink Center, on Jan. 4.
What’s happened since?
In August, a derecho blew through the Cedar Rapids area, causing widespread damage and derailing the October opening plans. For now, the Linn County access center does not have a “hard open” date, according to director Erin Foster. She said the hope is that the center will be fully open at the end of November.
“There have been some construction delays, and the derecho played a huge role in that,” Foster said. “We are very fortunate that there was very minor damage to the building.”
Foster said the organizations that will provide services at the center had to come back from the derecho as well. She compared it to when the pandemic first started.
“When COVID hit, we had to play off them and figure it out,” Foster said. “When the derecho hit, the same thing happened. We had to take a step back and let the organizations get back on track.”
Foster said different subcontractors on the project got swamped by the August storm as well.
“We were actually getting electricity up and running when the derecho hit so then those electricians got really busy,” she said.
If everything remains on track moving forward, Foster said construction should wrap up in the next couple of weeks. After that, training can begin at the access center.
“What we would really like to do is do a soft opening working with some of the orgs that are within the building and bringing some of the patients they are already seeing to make sure we have our procedures and flow down,” Foster said.
Foster said she is excited to finally get the center opened to help meet the growing demand in the area.
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“There is so much need for mental health services just in general and you throw in a pandemic and a natural disaster,” Foster said. “We are trying to be level-headed and not rush things. There are times we have to stand back and pump the brakes a second. We need to do this right for the community so when we open the doors fully, we are an amazing resource.”
Foster added that with the pandemic, a big grand opening will not be possible, but there will be ways to virtually bring people into the access center in the future so they can see it firsthand. There also will be other videos and a small ribbon-cutting at some point.
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