Linn County Access Center opens sobering up unit, now supports law enforcement referrals

The Linn County Mental Health Access Center is seen in Cedar Rapids on February 24. The center now offers a 24-hour sobering-up unit and has started accepting referrals from law enforcement. It is one of 10 regions now open in Iowa that are designated by the 14 Mental Health and Disability Regions to provide a place for people in crisis. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS – Linn County Mental Health Access Center now offers a 24-hour sobering-up unit and has started accepting referrals from law enforcement, further reducing emergency room visits and prisons overcrowded for those who are intoxicated or in need of mental health care and are not not to be charged with a crime.

The Access Center is one of 10 Access Centers currently open in Iowa and designated by the 14 Mental Health and Disability Regions to provide a place for people in crisis where they can be assessed, treated and directed towards additional services, if necessary.

The sobering up unit offers drunk people a safe place to stay, as a drunk person who has not committed a crime has no place in jail but may be in crisis or have substance abuse problem and may also undergo an assessment before leaving the center.

Erin Foster, director of the center, said the center helps people get what they need in one place.

“Every day is something different – a new problem that we hadn’t thought of and worked on together – outside of the box to figure it out,” Foster said.

The sobering-up unit, which opened in September, got off to a slow start. He had 16 patients in October and around nine so far this month. She expects those numbers to increase as more people learn about the service.

Linn County Mental Health Access Center Director Erin Foster poses for a photo in her office on June 16. (The Gazette)

“Usually the day before Thanksgiving is a big night of drinking and we’ll likely see a raise during the holidays and also referrals from law enforcement,” Foster said.

Direct law enforcement referrals – meaning an officer or deputy brings someone in crisis or intoxicated instead of taking them to jail or hospital – have resulted in more than 45 patients to date. The majority were referred by Cedar Rapids Police and there were about “a handful” from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Marion Police. Foster expects this to increase as departments learn more about the centre’s services.

Foster continues to work on outreach across the county and wants to educate rural communities about what the center can offer. Most law enforcement officials are familiar with the center, but are probably wondering if it is worth it if they are several miles away.

Foster points out that emergency room wait times for law enforcement officials may be hours they have to spend off duty while waiting to “transfer” the individual. At the access center, however, this waiting time is reduced. Foster said officers who bring a patient to the center only spend about seven to ten minutes there. Even if an agent arrives by car from a rural area, it will still reduce their waiting time.

Linn County Mental Health Access Center Director Erin Foster poses for a photo in the centre’s lobby on June 16. (The Gazette)

The access center, which opened in March, has seen more than 300 walk-in people since May, Foster said, which does not include the response from the mobile crisis unit. October was an “extremely” high month for walk-in visits with 82 people. It’s usually around 45 to 50 per month.

“GuideLink (Center in Iowa City, also referred to as Access) had the same thing in October, ”Foster said. “We generally reflect ourselves. We have had quiet days this month which is typical before a vacation. Next week the numbers are expected to increase.

Foster said that she and Abbey Ferenzi, Executive Director of GuideLink, are collaborating all the time on the centers and how to improve services. They also share ideas on how to better help patients.

The demographics of central Linn, so far, have been around 60% male and 40% female, and around 60% of those between 25 and 44 years old.

Service providers work with the access center to provide help with mental health crisis, substance abuse, crisis stabilization, counseling and peer support. The Linn center will also soon be offering a three to five day drug rehab program.

The center has walk-in hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.. After hours, law enforcement can contact Area Ambulance, which is the center’s service provider for the sobering-up unit, to admit that unit.

Foundation 2 Crisis Services, another service provider, is working to increase its staff, so the center can offer weekend hours, Foster said.

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