Linn County Mental Health Access Center working toward 24/7 services as need continues to increase

Linn County Mental Health Access Center, 501 13th St. NW in Cedar Rapids. April 24, 2021. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

After opening their doors earlier this year, the mental health access centers in Linn and Johnson counties are working to make services more accessible and available to patients.

Erin Foster, director of the Linn County Mental Health Access Center, told the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday that “a lot has happened in the last three months.”

The Linn County Mental Health Access Center, 501 13th St NW, had a soft opening in early March and started walk-in hours in late April. Services are provided by AbbeHealth, Area Substance Abuse Council (ASAC), Foundation 2 and Penn Center.

The center is working to continue adding services, with a goal of being open on a walk-in basis 24 hours a day, all days of the week.

“As we are continuing to ramp up hours and services, we’re making sure that our policies and procedures are in place, making sure it doesn’t just look good on paper, that it’s actually functional when patients come in,” Foster said.

Approximately 24 people have used the walk-in services in the last month, Foster said, adding that this averages to two to three people coming in a day. Those numbers are expected to continue to increase, she said.

According to Foster, more than 30 patients were placed into crisis stabilization in the last month.

Individuals don’t need a referral to access the center’s services and anyone can walk into the building. Adults experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis are able to receive services at the center without an appointment Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Individuals needing services outside these hours can call Foundation 2’s mobile crisis team at 319-362-2174.

The access center receives funding from the East Central Mental Health Region, which allows it to serve individuals in Linn County and residents from eight nearby counties, including Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, Iowa, Johnson and Jones counties.

Foster said the center has secured about $5,000 in CARES Act funds from the East Central Mental Health Region. The center intends to use the funds for on-call interpretation services and translate documents into other languages to make it easier for individuals whose first language is not English.

The center will also receive $21,000 in federal funding to work with local law enforcement and Foundation 2 on diverting individuals in crisis from jail.

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“We know access centers are huge jail diversion programs, so this federal grant specifically looks at jail diversion and how we help patients with mental health and substance use disorders,” Foster said.

Foster explained Linn County’s center has not yet started a procedure whereby law enforcement officers can bring people directly to the center, as Johnson County’s GuideLink Center has.

“They have amazing data already about the number of people that they have diverted away,” Foster said.

The GuideLink Center, 300 Southgate Ave, in Iowa City had a soft opening in February to law enforcement and CommUnity’s mobile crisis unit. The center began its 24/7 walk-in hours on Tuesday and has opened all of its units.

Those involved with the project have described the center as a “third option” to divert individuals from being taken to jail or an emergency room when other treatment is warranted. Staff and services at the center are provided by AbbeHealth, Penn Center, Prelude Abbe Community Mental Health, CommUnity Mobile Crisis and the Johnson County Ambulance Service.

GuideLink Center’s executive director Abbey Ferenzi told the Gazette that the center’s crisis stabilization unit has helped 84 individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. The Iowa City Police Department has had 32 referrals to the GuideLink.

Ferenzi said most of the individuals served in crisis stabilization would have gone to the emergency room.

“There’s no wrong reason to come to the GuideLink Center, even if what you’re looking for isn’t here. We’re going to guide you in the right direction,” Ferenzi told the Gazette.

The GuideLink Center, 300 Southgate Ave in Iowa City, has 16 individual rooms for crisis stabilization and detoxification treatment. Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village