Johnson County plans for crisis-service center


Johnson County wants to find ways to help people in mental-health or substance-abuse crises.

By Kayli Reese

Johnson County will open a new service center to improve the treatment of those experiencing a mental-health or substance-abuse crisis.

Jessica Peckover, Johnson County jail-alternative administrator, said the plans for the facility are moving ahead, and officials are scouting properties to house the center. Hopefully, she said, the center can be operational in the next 18 to 24 months.

Plans for the center have been in the works for a couple of years, she said, and they have advanced now that the county knows the facility will be sustainable. Financial support for the center is also now available, and officials discussed that in the 2019 budget, she said. That budget includes $6.5 million for the center.

“[The center] will include a variety of services, including a sobering unit, crisis observation, crisis stabilization, and detoxification, as well as a permanent place to have the winter low-barrier shelter,” Peckover said.

The sobering unit will be focused on harm reduction, she said. Instead of giving a person a public-intoxication charge, she said, he or she could come to the center for four to six hours to become sober in a safe space.

Crisis observation would be done for up to 23 hours for those who need it, she said, and an assessment of the next steps for care would be taken, such as inpatient treatment.

In crisis stabilization, Peckover said, people in crisis may stay at the center for up to five days until they become more stable instead of having to go to a hospital or to their residence without care or support.

Iowa City police Sgt. Scott Gaarde said having one place to bring those experiencing a crisis would be very helpful, especially financially. Costs increase, he said, when someone needs to be transferred to numerous places.

“The goal with this type of facility and location is to not only provide convenience to officers while assisting those in crisis but also to expedite the assistance getting to the individuals while reducing overall costs to the community,” Gaarde said.

Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry said the area, including the University of Iowa, Iowa City, North Liberty, and Coralville, has formed a unique collaborative effort to provide the right resources to those with mental-health or substance-abuse issues. That would keep them out of jail or the emergency room, which are the most costly and inefficient ways to help, he said.

“Communities that have implemented similar programs have seen reductions in the number of jail inmates over time, as well as a reduction in emergency-room visits,” Carberry said.

Currently, bringing people in crisis to jail or the emergency room is misusing those services, Peckover said. The center would increase efficiency for those in crisis while also providing quality care.

For example, she said, officers would only spend about 15 minutes bringing a person to the service center as opposed to the time it takes to book that person into jail or wait for them to receive treatment in an ER.

Officials hope the center will meet the needs of people going through a crisis, Peckover said, and any issues can be better taken care of.

“The hope is not to have people cycle back through [the service center],” she said. “If they do, it’s not every other week, but every other month.”

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