Gov. Reynolds tours new mental health and crisis center in Iowa City

The GuideLink Center will provide resources to adults facing emotional, mental health, or substance use issues. Those involved with the center hope to receive assistance from the state.


Hannah Kinson

Gov. Kim Reynolds listens during a conference at the GuideLink Center in Iowa City on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. The new crisis center is a collaborative project between the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and community partners, and focuses on providing mental health and substance use care. It will have a soft opening on Monday.

Natalie Dunlap, Politics Reporter

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia toured the GuideLink Center in Iowa City on Thursday afternoon, a new mental health and crisis facility that will begin providing services to a small group of people on Monday Feb. 15, when the center has a soft opening. 

In addition to celebrating and showing the governor the service they will be providing, Monika Jindal, a GuideLink Medical Director and physician at UI Family Medicine, highlighted the assistance they will need from the state to sustain these services. 

Jindal focused on how the state could assist with the center’s financial viability, workforce sustainability, and access to services and integration of care. Some examples included allowing ambulances to bring people to the center rather than the emergency room and minimizing burdensome bureaucratic files that slow access to care and contribute to employee burnout. 

“We definitely need support from the state government,”  Executive Director Abbey Ferenzi told The Daily Iowan. “Luckily because of all the support and the community involvement we’ve been able to get off the ground, but if we want to continue what we’re doing here at GuideLink Center —and we hope to just get better and better—we’re definitely going to need support from the state and I was very encouraged by what I heard today.” 

Reynolds praised the collaboration that went into the center, saying the silos of care became even more evident in the last year when dealing with COVID-19.  Reynolds said Garcia and herself want to be involved in streamlining services.

“This is a behavioral health urgent care facility that’s really put in place to really take care for the whole person,” Reynolds said. “It’s what we need to do, it’s the right thing to do.”

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In the Condition of the State on Jan. 12, Reynolds said she wanted to continue investing in mental health. In the state budget proposal, she proposed $30 million state appropriations be split over fiscal year 2022 and 2023 for mental health services. 

Lance Clemsen, the Executive and Steering Committee Chair, said the guiding principles in creating the facility were to create something different, innovative, integrate services, think of the whole person they are assisting, and not be dissuaded by goals just because they hadn’t been accomplished before. 

The center provides an alternative to an emergency room or jail cell to people experiencing a behavioral or mental health crisis, and those who need a safe place to sober up or withdraw from drugs or alcohol. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors leads the collaborative, which currently has 19 community partners including the University of Iowa, Shelter House, Local Municipalities, Johnson County Jail Alternatives, and CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank. 

An individual sleeping room is seen at the GuideLink Center in Iowa City on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. The 16 rooms are available for people who will stay at the facility for more than 24 hours, and are meant to feel more like dorms than institutionalized rooms. The GuideLink Center will have a soft opening on Monday. (Hannah Kinson/The Daily Iowan) (Hannah Kinson)

“It originated with Johnson County Jail Alternatives, trying to come together with other local partners, officials, to figure out a way to adequately serve individuals with other options other than the ER or going to jail,” Ferenzi said.   

Beginning Monday, law enforcement and the mobile crisis outreach team will be able to start bringing people into the facility for treatment. Eventually it will be open to the general public for people to check themselves in or to be brought by family and friends, but Ferenzi said GuideLink staff wanted to limit the volume of people coming in to start out. 

Facilities include 16 individual sleeping rooms for people staying at the GuideLink Center for more than 24 hours, a crisis observation room that will be set up like a living room for those staying less than 24 hours, and a sobriety unit meant to divert people away from jail and instead give them a place to sleep and sober up. All those facilities have restrooms and showers. 

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague was in attendance, and said the center is a historic opportunity for Iowa City and Johnson County to bring a group of entities together to provide mental health services. He said the center will divert people from jails where they don’t need to be into a facility with access to mental health. 

“I’m very appreciative, one for all the work that has gone on, but also for the governor coming down to look at what we’re doing here in our community,” Teague told The Daily Iowan. “Of course there’s some missing pieces to bring it all together and I think that’s what was expressed by the governor and it seemed like we were speaking to the choir which is a good thing, but we also are expecting some partnerships to really bring some solutions.” 


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