The best crisis care alternative
Linn County Mental Health Access Center
Linn County Board Supervisor Ben Rogers considers the Mental Health Access Center in Cedar Rapids his passion project.
“Finding funding for treating people with mental health and substance use disorders can be very complicated. But in 2019, we happened to have a surplus of mental health dollars that needed to be spent, and at the exact time, a public health building became available," said Rogers. "It was as if the stars aligned to create the Linn County Mental Health Access Center where people can get crisis care instead of going to jail or the emergency room.”
Rogers had the ongoing support of his family while managing his own depression and substance use disorder, but in the past, he still struggled. He believes he would have benefited from the level of service offered by the access center, and that it is a much-needed option for the community.
“Hospital emergency rooms are not equipped to effectively help people with their co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders,” said Rogers. “However, often people don't know where else to go for help. And we rely too much on the prison system to handle people facing drug-related crimes. Jail environments do little to encourage sobriety and there often are few resources for treatment.”
BEN'S STORY: How sharing his journey with depression became a 'personal mission'
The Linn County Mental Health Access Center is the first of its kind in Iowa to offer both mental health and substance use disorder crisis care under one roof. These services are not usually combined since Iowa law prohibits counties from spending mental health funds on substance use disorders. To circumvent this outdated legislation, taxes were raised to fund this groundbreaking facility.
Rogers felt this concept was essential because, “not everyone with a mental illness has a substance use disorder, but many people with a substance use disorder have a mental illness.”
When developing the center, Rogers sought advice from established mental health access centers across the country. They all unanimously agreed that along with joining forces with area hospitals and community providers, partnering with local law enforcement was key, as they would be his “number one customer.”
“They (law enforcement) interface with people dealing with mental health and sobriety issues on every shift, every day,” said Rogers. “They need a place where they can safely divert individuals to get help.”
MAKE IT OK: Resources to end mental illness stigma
The Linn County Mental Health Access Center provides high-quality crisis-oriented care for people age 18 and up experiencing mental health or substance use disorder problems. Behavioral treatment services at the access center are provided by local mental health and substance abuse service providers that include UnityPoint Health’s Abbe Mental Health and Penn Center, Area Substance Abuse Council (ASAC), and Foundation 2 Crisis Services. While the access center is focused on short-term, crisis stabilization care with no limit to the number of times patients can use their services, providers can also arrange for long-term care outside the facility as needed.
Rogers describes the Linn County Mental Health Access Center as a space of healing and hope that helps those who are struggling with mental health and substance use challenges know there is support available to help them live a fuller life. This is done, he believes, by “caring about what brought patients there, caring about them while they’re in there, and then ensuring their success once they leave.”
And while the access center opened on March 5, 2021, it has already achieved its primary objective: “After we opened our doors, the executive director shared with me that the first patient referred to our service said, ‘Thank you for caring about me.’ She felt like someone cared about her at her most challenging moment, and isn’t that what we all want? It’s something so simple, yet so profound. That’s why you create an access center. That alone is why it has been worth it,” said Rogers.
MAKE IT OK PODCAST: Hear from Iowans living with mental illness
Make It OK - Iowa has been a strong advocate of The Linn County Mental Health Access Center. According to Ben, their goal of letting people with mental health issues know what they’re experiencing is not abnormal, and that there is a community of people out there to support them is exactly what the Mental Health Access Center is all about.
“I can’t think of a better tagline than 'Make It OK,'” said Rogers.
HealthPartners UnityPoint Health is a proud partner and supporter of Make It OK – Iowa. Launched in 2015, the company combines the award-winning health plan financing and administration of HealthPartners with UnityPoint Health’s extensive provider network and care system. Together, HealthPartners UnityPoint Health offers high-quality, affordable care and coverage in Iowa and western Illinois. To learn more, visit healthpartnersunitypointhealth.com.