County Board of Supervisors award $6.4 million bid to build new behavioral-access center in Johnson County

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors have approved a $6.4 million award to build a new behavioral health access center. The center will serve those in the community with behavioral health and substance abuse issues.


People walk around downtown on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.

Rachel Steil, News Reporter

A new facilty to help those in the community with behavioral-health and/or substance-abuse issues will soon break ground in Iowa City.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors recently awarded a bid to build a new behavioral-health access center.

“You don’t want people in jail, and you don’t want people in the emergency room,” Supervisor Vice Chair Rod Sullivan said. “Anything you can do to keep people out of those places is good.”

The new behavioral-health access center is expected to open in November 2020 and will cost about $6.4 million to build, Sullivan said.

The startup funding for the center will come from Johnson County and local municipalities, center project manager Matthew Miller said. Funds to keep the center running will come from county taxpayer dollars, insurance bills, and East Central Region Mental Health/Disability Services.

The behavioral-health center is aimed at crisis intervention, Sullivan said, and will assist law-enforcement officials when they interact with people in need of crisis services.

“Some of these folks have mental-health issues, some of these folks have substance-abuse issues, some have both,” Sullivan said. “There are a lot of people who end up in jail or the emergency room simply because there is not a better fit.”

Miller called the behavioral-health center a one-stop shop for behavioral-health and substance-abuse treatment. The center will offer services such as sobering, detoxification, and crisis observation, Sullivan said.

“Seventy to 80 percent of people who end up in emergency rooms for behavioral-health issues could have been dealt with in outpatient settings,” Miller said.

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The center is expected to decrease those numbers by providing police with a third option. Miller said the center is not limited to law enforcement drop-offs and is open to anyone. In addition, walk-ins and family drop-offs will be accepted.

“It is a voluntary, unlocked facility,” Miller said. “People are not committed; they can leave at any time.”

The center will also offer a jail-diversion program with its sobering unit. Miller said this unit provides an alternative for people who would otherwise get charged with public intoxication.

Miller said the center is a better option than the emergency room or jail in many ways.

“It is not as expensive to come to [the center] than to go to the emergency room or jail,” Miller said. “Those options are much more costly to taxpayers or insurance companies.”

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Miller also said the center is more discrete and will help break the cycle of going to jail and the emergency room for people with behavioral-health or substance-abuse issues.

“We are going to be focused on providing specialized care and getting people connected with long-term services,” Miller said.

Iowa City police Officer Colin Fowler said he thinks the community needs a program such as the new behavioral-health center.

“It will be a great alternative to our currently limited choices,” Fowler said. “This is a great opportunity for short-term stability services.”

Like Sullivan and Miller, Fowler said he is confident the center will positively affect Johnson County.

“There’s always going to be growing pains,” Fowler said. “But in the grand scheme of things, it is going to be very beneficial for the community.”

Editor’s Note: The previous picture with this piece depicted CommUnity. CommUnity has no affiliation with the behavioral-access center. The DI regrets this error.