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Progress on all fronts, and a new name, too

Elected officials receive an update on Johnson County’s Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center
Johnson County Project Manager Matt Miller provided an update on the construction, operation and funding of the new access center, also known as the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center, Monday, Jan. 13, during a joint entities meeting at the North Liberty City Hall.

NORTH LIBERTY– Johnson County’s Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center (BHUCC), or Access Center, is taking shape after years of discussion and planning.
Matt Miller, the county’s project manager, provided an update on the facility during a Monday, Jan. 13, joint entities meeting of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, the Iowa City Community School Board, and city councils including North Liberty, Coralville, Iowa City, Hills and University Heights.
The supervisors awarded a $6.4 million contract to Cedar Rapids-based Merit Construction in September, and Miller reported the building permit was issued Nov. 22 with construction beginning soon after on the site, located at 270 Southgate Ave. in Iowa City.
Miller said a mild December allowed work on the footings to proceed, along with some other site work, including below-ground plumbing. However, a winter shutdown was scheduled to begin around Friday, Dec. 17, with roughly a third of the concrete footings left to be poured, along with some other concrete work. “You just can’t do it when temperatures get this low,” Miller said. “We had planned for a winter shutdown anyway, but the activities we wanted to get done before the shutdown are not done yet.”
Progress was made in the operational and legal structure for the center with “managing entity service provider” contracts in the process of being finalized.
“The two key pieces we’re working on are financial reporting requirements,” Miller said.
The Abbe Center for Community Mental Health will be the managing entity, and provided sample reports for guidance. Miller said they are also evaluating other reporting requirements from the providers who will be facilitating care at the center.
“What we’re doing is determining what additional (above and beyond state requirements) things we want, so we’re standardizing what we want, and just adding details to the contracts,” Miller added.
Efforts to fund the facility continue with Miller still out and about making presentations to municipalities to secure funding pledges. Currently, the BHUCC has $10.3 million in capital funding for construction, marketing and other costs. Miller estimates a need for $1.2 million in funding for the first year of operations and noted he would be meeting with the East Central Region (a partnership of nine counties to provide mental health and disability services) to secure funding. He also urged the mayors and council members present to finalize their 28E agreements with the county, which spell out financial contributions and services received. Miller said meetings were also being held with insurers such as Medicaid and Wellmark to discuss reimbursement rates.
“Access centers are sort of a different middle ground,” he said. “We’re not necessarily inpatient, and we’re not necessarily outpatient. So, we’re talking about what reimbursement packages we might be able to get.”
Miller addressed the community outreach effort, including coming up with a name and logo for the facility: “The GuideLink Center.” The board of supervisors was expected to formally approve the name in an upcoming meeting, and Miller said a variety of brochures and quick-reference cards targeting different groups– healthcare providers and law enforcement personnel¬– as well as a website, were under development.
Neumann Monson Architects, from Iowa City, designed the facility, which will provide a more appropriate alternative for people having an acute behavioral issue or mental health crisis. Currently, such people typically end up either in a hospital emergency department or the county jail, neither of which is ideal for such a situation. In addition, The GuideLink Center will provide a “low-barrier” shelter for intoxicated subjects, medical monitoring for other substance abuse cases, and a warming shelter during the winter months.
Planning for the facility began after Johnson County Sheriff’s deputies began undergoing Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training in 2015 following a program originating in San Antonio, Texas, in the early 2000s. The CIT program provides specialized training to law enforcement officers in handling behavioral and mental health issues as a medical condition rather than a criminal offense. Key to San Antonio’s program is a one-stop-shop access center available 24/7/365.
Chairman of the board of supervisors Rod Sullivan said the cities of Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty, along with Johnson County, have attorneys putting the finishing touches on their 28E agreements.
“We don’t want to let it linger too much longer,” he said, “because with construction having already started, we’re already paying bills, and we would like some more money with which to pay them.”