CEDAR RAPIDS — With people navigating both the health risks of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn, the need for mental health access centers is more important than ever.
A strategic goal of an access center is to partner with law enforcement, schools and hospitals to provide a place that can help people in crisis — not just send them to jails or emergency rooms.
“We can help our friends in law enforcement to reduce the burden on them if a person can be more appropriately served through our access center than sitting in a jail cell or emergency department,” said Mae Hingtgen, chief executive officer of the East Central Region of Iowa’s Mental Health and Disability Services.
Opening an access center in Linn County has been delayed slightly by the pandemic. While officials initially were hoping to open July or August, the grand opening now is tentatively scheduled for October to give time for construction to be completed and staff to be trained with coronavirus procedures.
Johnson County also is building an access center — earlier this year named the GuideLink Center — and plans a grand opening Jan. 4.
Erin Foster, director of the Linn County access center, said it will meet a need for mental health and behavioral health providers to work together with law enforcement.
“With any trauma associated with any big change, you see behavioral health needs skyrocket,” Foster said. “We’re looking forward to being able to help the community. This needed to open yesterday, and we are working so hard to make this a reality.”
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The building, at 501 13th St. NW in Cedar Rapids, will have a separate entrance where officers can bring patients who consent — with officers knowing in advance that a bed is available when they take a patient there.
Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said the access center will provide more effective and less costly treatment.
“I’ve always been so proud of this project, but with hospitals needing to focus more on COVID-19 response, with jails trying to keep only those who have to be in jail, the need to be able to divert or safely discharge people to the access center has become more important today than I ever could have anticipated,” Rogers said.
Officers with the Cedar Rapids Police Department have served on a planning team and executive committee for the access center.
The East Central Region board voted to increase the tax levy 3 cents in fiscal 2021, from 30.91 cents to 34 cents, providing $1.3 million in operational costs to the centers in the first year.
Iowa is divided into 14 mental health regions. The counties in them impose property taxes to support their proportional share of the region’s levy. The East Central Region includes Linn, Johnson, Benton. Bremer, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, Iowa and Jones counties.
Foundation 2, the Abbe Center and the Penn Center will provide mental health services to the Linn County facility.
The opening date of Johnson County’s GuideLink Center was delayed about a month because of a construction delay caused by the coronavirus and to get staff trained in social distancing and personal protective equipment procedures.
The providers at GuideLink include Prelude, the Abbe Center and the Penn Center.
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“The year of 2020 has been one of the more stressful ones,” said Matt Miller, the GuideLink project manager. “Now more than ever the access center is going to be needed as people are under more stress, creating more mental health issues and people leaning into substance abuse issues. “This is going to be a fantastic place for the community to get people stabilized and connected with ongoing resources.”
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