Lynn’s Mental Health Access Center sees growing need

The Linn County Mental Health Access Center is seen in 2021 at the former County Public Health building in Cedar Rapids. (Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s been a year and a half since Linn County opened its Mental Health Access Center, and the demand for mental health services in the county continues to grow.

The need is so great that the center may extend its hours to 24/7 and a youth assessment center is being discussed.

Access Center to open in March 2021. In its first full fiscal year – July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022 – it saw 785 walk-in patients.

A living room for long-term patients is seen at the Linn County Mental Health Access Center in Cedar Rapids in 2021. The center fills a gap in local mental health services for under-served populations in the region, providing patients with access to counseling, prescribers, and referrals. A place to recover when needed. (Gazette)

Currently, the center is open seven days a week for walk-in hours between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Erin Foster, director of access centers, is still working on making the center available for walk-ins 24/7 , but has been a challenge so far.

The new Linn County Mental Health Access Center in Cedar Rapids has a sobering unit for up to five people who can use the space to recover from alcohol or substance abuse before receiving treatment. The center fills a gap in local mental health services for underserved populations in the area, providing patients with counseling, prescribers, and a place to recover when needed. (Gazette)

“Working through the opening of the center was an accomplishment and we have it and mitigate the workforce issues that affect us all,” Foster said. “I wish we were open 24/7 but this is 100 percent associated with a workforce shortage. But based on what we’ve seen over the past year and a half, we know there is a great need for these services.”

Linn County Supervisors provided $3.5 million in startup funding for the center, which is located in the building that previously housed Linn County Public Health at 501 13th St. NW, Cedar Rapids.

Services include crisis triage and counseling, mental health assessment and prescriber appointments, peer support, crisis stabilization, and a sobering unit. Services are provided by Abbeyhealth, Area Ambulance Service, Foundation 2 and St Luke’s Chemical Dependency.

Since the center receives funding from the East Central Mental Health Region, it is open to individuals from nine counties: Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, and Lynn. The counties’ property taxes help fund the Access Center.

Numbers to cross first year on track

So far this year, the numbers are on track to surpass the prior year. In the first three months of FY23, 310 walk-ins have come through the access centre.

Last year, there were 124 law enforcement referrals. So far in FY23, this number stands at 56. A key part of the center is that it provides law enforcement a place other than a jail or hospital emergency room to take people experiencing crisis. ,

Director Erin Foster poses for a photo in her office at the Mental Health Access Center in Cedar Rapids in 2021. (The Gazette)

“I’m really pleased with our prison and hospital diversion rates,” Foster said. “According to our surveys, if we didn’t have the center, 41 percent of our law enforcement referrals would have gone to jail, and 36 percent would have been taken to the hospital.”

Foster said outpatient surveys show that 35 percent of patients would drive themselves to the ER or call 911 if there was no access center.

“It’s a huge success for us,” she said.

Foster said she thinks the increase in patients is a combination of variables, from the center’s community outreach, partnerships with nonprofits like Waypoint and just more need in difficult times.

Foster said, “It’s been a tough three years.” “So many people have experienced loss and are now looking at mental health from a personal perspective. With COVID, the derecho and other world events, we know that people’s mental health has been affected and it is increasing.

The Center’s outpatient survey asks another question: If the Access Center did not exist, what would you do instead? Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they would have done nothing.

According to Mental Health America, approximately one in five adults in America experiences a mental illness. In Iowa, this percentage is similar to the national trend, which equates to 441,000 Iowans with a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder.

Iowa ranks second in the nation for adults with untreated mental illness at 44.2 percent, or 181,000 people.

Lynn County Supervisor Chairman Ben Rogers said he thinks mental health has been more “front of mind” for people because of the various factors Foster listed, but also acknowledged that many people don’t know where to turn or What to do They are experiencing mental illness.

Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers meets with the Linn County Mental Health Advisory Committee via Zoom in his office at the Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids in February 2022. (Nick Rohlmann/The Gazette)

“I really feel there’s been a social change and we’re talking about it and it’s more accepting,” Rogers said. “You can bring mental health up to anyone and they are relatable because we all have similar feelings and experiences. Talking openly about these things is the trend we want to go into.”

Moving forward for the Access Center, Foster said she would like to see the center offer its withdrawal management program in the summer of 2023. He also said he expects walk-in hours to be 24/7 by early 2023.

“We’re close to making more hires,” Foster said. “We have amazing employees here and we are not just looking for seat fillers. That can’t happen here. The employees here really have the core components of empathy and compassion, being able to think outside the box and on their feet Huh.

Rogers said a second challenge for the center is that in Iowa, funding for mental health services and substance use are separated.

“For an access center, providers are able to bill Medicaid for mental health services, but we have to use local property tax dollars to pay for the substance use portion,” Rogers said. “We’re one of the few states that doesn’t allow those funding to be woven around. It really handcuffs us.

“Something has to come up state-wise with funding and reimbursement rates,” Foster said. “Not looking at these services as special types of services is wrong and it’s not doing justice to anyone.”

Youth Assessment Center may be in the future

Both Rogers and Foster are also involved in the “very early” planning stages for a future youth assessment center, which would provide mental health services to children and families. The Mental Health Access Center provides services to adults only.

“This will help youth and families in crisis access services in a timely manner,” Rogers said. “It will help them navigate the system. That’s what we’re working on now because hopefully kids will become adults someday and trying to address these issues early in their lives will statistically help them when they grow up.” Much better than doing.

Foster said part of the planning process is making sure they’re not “reinventing the wheel” or indirectly creating more barriers for organizations and people seeking services.

“It will look different from the Access Center and have different providers and services,” Foster said. “But when you look at crisis services and substance use, you have to cover the whole lifespan. Just having adult services doesn’t cover everything that happens. There is an urgent need for services.”

The afternoon sun beats down on the Linn County Mental Health Access Center in Cedar Rapids in March 2022. (Geoff Stellfox / The Gazette)

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