Staff Editorial

New facilities in Eastern Iowa promise help for the most vulnerable

Linn and Johnson offering an alternative to jails and hospitals for people in crisis

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)

With the new year comes the expected arrival of two long-awaited projects meant to serve some of Eastern Iowa’s most difficult-to-serve populations.

Both Linn County and Johnson County expect to open new mental health access centers in the early months of 2021. They will offer a range of services to people experiencing mental health or substance abuse crises, which organizers hope will be a better use of law enforcement and health care resources.

The GuideLink Center in Johnson County is a newly constructed building on Southgate Avenue in Iowa City. The Linn County Mental Health Access Center will be housed in an existing county building on 13th Street NW. Both will be collaboratively operated by local government and area nonprofits.

The new facilities address two of the issues this editorial board has focused on in recent years — law enforcement and mental health care.

Too often, police in Iowa are tasked with handling mental health crises when Iowans are poorly served by other resources. Officers in both counties participate in crisis intervention training, which is important but does not solve the underlying problems. Without another option, mentally ill people sometimes are taken to jails or emergency rooms, which are expensive solutions with poor outcomes.

The forthcoming centers in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City provide a much needed third option, a safe place to take people instead of a jail cell or a hospital room. Ultimately, it could save taxpayers money while also offering better care to the people who need it most.

The projects were delayed by the pandemic and the derecho, but there also have been political disagreements about funding and oversight. During development, we voiced our concern that the counties seemed to be operating in silos, without adequate regional or statewide coordination.

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That concern lingers, but we are optimistic for the future. The coronavirus pandemic and the public’s demand for law enforcement reform, we hope, have given local leaders a clearer view of their priorities.

After what was a terrible year in many ways, Eastern Iowa stands to start 2021 on a positive note.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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