Iowa Mental Health Access Centers Another Tool to Help People in Crisis

“We want to provide immediate help to people in crisis,” said Erin Foster, director of the Mental Health Access Center. (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)

Access centers are something new in Iowa – places where people in crisis can go to or be brought in by the police, rather than going to the emergency room or jail.

Iowa has five of the centers, with more to come. The centers are designed to be one-stop-shops – where a person with problems can be assessed and treated and, if necessary, referred to services

The centers also allow repeat visits, if individuals are experiencing more than one crisis or do not fully accept help the first time around.

The centers – modeled after similar centers in other states – are referred to by the 14 Iowa Mental Health and Disability Regions.

“We’re not replacing hospitals, but an access center is just another tool to provide people with the help they need,” said Erin Foster, director of the Linn County Mental Health Access Center at Cedar. Rapids.

“It’s like when my kids are sick and I take them to the emergency room rather than the hospital. Many rural counties only had hospitals in the area, but now these centers will help fill the void. We want to give people in crisis this immediate help. “

Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers, who helped plan the center, located at 501 13th St. NW, said he knew the installation wouldn’t solve all problems.

But he also believes that the services were needed “yesterday” and that it was not possible to complete the center quickly enough. Access centers have existed in other states for years and have been successful in reducing hospital and prison stays for people in crisis.

Becky Shelton, of the Community Health Centers of Southern Iowa Access Center in Osceola, said anyone with mental health issues “should contact (their local center), even if they don’t know where they fit in. We are here to help and assist. We regularly have 10 to 12 providers.

iowa law

House File 2456, the bill to establish access centers in Iowa, was enacted in March 2018. It requires centers to provide short-term assistance to residents of Iowa in crisis.

He called for centers to have 16 beds or less to provide immediate and short-term assessments for people with mental health or addiction issues who do not need “significant support.” The centers do not provide care and treatment for long-term hospital patients.

The bill also provided that the centers should provide drug addiction, crisis observation and stabilization services.

  • Assessment to determine why a person entered
  • Mental health and / or substance abuse screening and suicide screening
  • Crisis stabilization – assessment and treatment for anyone needing observation for further assessment
  • Subacute services – treatment for more intensive mental health problems
  • Addiction services, psychiatric assessments, counseling and peer support services
  • Additional resources and references.

These “extra services” offered by some centers include sobering-up units, detoxification units under medical supervision, and medical and dental services.

Services seem to evolve as centers open up and learn what is needed in different parts of the state. Other centers will be designated this year.

Recently opened

Two of the newer centers opened in eastern Iowa in February and March – the Johnson County GuideLink Center in Iowa City and the Linn County Mental Health Access Center in Cedar Rapids .

Abbey Ferenzi, Executive Director of GuideLink, at 300 Southgate Ave., said there is no bad reason to come to GuideLink, although it is not what a person needs as the staff can ” guide and put people in touch with what they might need outside the center. . “

Working in community mental health as a counselor for 17 years and with the Abbe Mental Health Center, she knows the gaps in the system and mental health issues that can lead someone to end up in the wards. emergency and prisons.

Foster from Linn County, also with a background in mental health and addictions, agreed, saying the center is a “non-judgmental place where we understand the wide range of crises and are ready to help in any way we can.” We have some of the best organizations and people working here who know so much about how to navigate this difficult system. “

In crisis

Foster and Ferenzi gave success stories for clients to show how the center can help a person in crisis.

In central Linn County, for example, a client had been referred for crisis stabilization. But then the staff at Foundation 2 and Abbe stepped into the conversation to think about what else was needed. The patient stayed for three days and received approximately eight services provided in one location.

“That was the real essence of how an access center should operate,” said Foster.

Ferenzi cited a case involving a homeless man who had been repeatedly admitted to the sobering-up unit. But on his third visit, after a paramedic and a nurse at the center worked with him, he decided to go to rehab and then agreed to undergo residential treatment. He was homeless due to his drug addiction problem, which may have led to a change in his life.

The Linn County center has started accepting drop-in visits from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and does not accept law enforcement referrals at this time. Agents generally receive more crisis-type calls between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. and the center is

Comments: (319) 398-8318; [email protected]

Director Erin Foster poses for a photo in her office at the Mental Health Access Center in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)

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