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Johnson County Access Center appears to be moving forward

Proposed facility would house detoxification, crisis stabilization, shelter and more

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek address attendees during a March 20 opening ceremony on the first day of a 40-hou
Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek address attendees during a March 20 opening ceremony on the first day of a 40-hour crisis intervention training program for first responders, held at St. Patrick’s Church in Iowa City. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

In March, Johnson County began offering crisis intervention training — which emphasizes de-escalating situations with people experiencing substance abuse or mental health issues — to area police and deputies.

The training was a result of officials traveling to San Antonio, Texas, beginning in 2015 to learn how to better address issues related to homelessness, mental health and substance abuse. In addition to crisis intervention training, one idea to come out of the San Antonio visits was the establishment of a behavioral health center to serve as an alternative to a hospital or jail.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

A Behavioral Health Access/CIT Center could be a reality in the next two to three years.

Johnson County Jail Alternatives Coordinator Jessica Peckover, who has spearheaded the crisis intervention project, said county officials have been checking out sites to potentially build an access center or retrofit an existing building.

“We’re probably looking at a two-year, maybe three-year process,” Peckover said.

According to a report published by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, the initial capital costs of a 22,000-square-foot facility are estimated to be up to $6.5 million. Supervisors have proposed that the county contribute 40 percent of the capital costs, the city of Iowa City pick up an additional 40 percent and Coralville and North Liberty each pay 10 percent of the costs.

Board Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said the cities haven’t officially signed on and budgeted for that funding, but she is confident about the project moving forward.

“I’ve had indication from certain elected officials they’re interested and ready to move,” she said.

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The board said additional funding could come from other sources such as grants, donations or even other communities. The facility most likely would be located in Iowa City.

“I think it’s fair to say all of the properties we’ve looked at this point are in the Iowa City limits,” Peckover said.

Rettig said it makes the most sense to put the center near both law enforcement and the services people who use the center will rely upon, such as Shelter House, Prelude and the Free Lunch Program of Iowa City.

“You can draw a circle around those areas and you know where we should put this,” she said.

The proposed facility would house sobering, detoxification and crisis stabilization units as well as crisis observation. Additional features would include a low-barrier homeless shelter, mobile crisis outreach and 24-hour telemedicine. The county would own and operate the facility and coordinate the construction and, under a proposed agreement between the county and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Department of Emergency Medicine, the Emergency Medicine Department would manage the programs and activities.

The annual operating expenses for the access center are estimated to be between $1.46 and $1.54 million in the first three years. Revenue during that time is estimated at $1.10 to $1.15 million. The county has agreed to cover up to $400,000 for expenditures exceeding the operating income, which was key in getting other communities to sign on to the project, Peckover and Rettig said.

“That was enough to get the municipalities to say, ‘Okay, let’s move forward then,’” Peckover said.

In addition to site selection and construction, more work needs to be done before the access center becomes a reality.

However, Peckover said she’s excited to see the project moving.

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“It’s exciting, yes,” she said. “But, kind of surprising. I didn’t know what it was going to take for it to move forward.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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