Newspaper Article Archive of
The Kalona News
Kalona, Iowa

Newspaper Article Archive of
The Kalona News

July 26, 2018 Center will help those with mental illnesses
Article Pages -- as published on the The Kalona News website.

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The Johnson County Board of Supervisors recently voted to purchase 5.34 acres of land on Southgate Avenue in southeast Iowa City for the purpose of constructing a Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center. The purchase price was $1.35 million or $5.80 per square foot.

The vote was 4-1 to move forward with the project.

You may have heard this project referred to as an “access center,” or “crisis intervention training.” Both terms refer to related projects.

In general, the center is a result of the efforts of former Johnson County Jail Alternatives Coordinator Jessica Peckover. Jessica had visited a program in Bexar County, Texas (San Antonio), that had done a remarkable job of redirecting people with mental health and substance abuse issues from the jail and emergency room to more appropriate services.

Peckover came away impressed and convinced a number of Johnson County folks to visit as well. (I was one of those visitors.)

The program in Bexar County is a true win-win-win. First, and most important, sick people get the care they need. Second, officers are able to drop off patients quickly and get back on the streets, increasing public safety. Finally local governments actually save money serving these folks.


We decided to move forward. That process started with sending local law enforcement officers to San Antonio to be trained in crisis intervention training. After sending dozens of officers from various agencies, we felt comfortable doing the training ourselves here in Johnson County.

As of this writing, more than 90 percent of all law enforcement officers in Johnson County have been trained on crisis intervention.

But training officers is only one piece of the puzzle. We also need to provide those officers an option other than jail or the ER.

That alternative is the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center. Until and unless this is built, patients will not be helped, officers cannot fully implement their training, and any savings will be negligible.

The center is a joint project including Johnson County; a number of cities, including Iowa City and Coralville; numerous local nonprofits; and the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

This was not a question of, “Are we doing a BHUCC?” The county and cities have already made that decision and already invested tremendous amounts of resources to that end. These include:

• Literally hundreds of hours of meetings.

• Dozens of trips by dozens of people to San Antonio.

• Every public safety officer in Johnson County save just a few has received extensive training on crisis intervention training.

The decision to create the center was made a long time ago. A “no” vote means backing out of that commitment.

A “no” vote is the equivalent of a big “screw you” to law enforcement officers, who have begged for help for decades.

A “no” vote is the equivalent of a big “screw you” to family members, who have begged for help for decades.

A “no” vote is the equivalent of a big “screw you” to people who would be served by the center, who have needed help for decades.

A “no” vote helps no one.

It has been mentioned that a portion of this property flooded in 2008 and was in the 100-year flood plain. This is true. Despite hyperbole to the contrary, this property has flooded just twice in 50 years.

I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.

But as a condition of purchase, the property is being built to a level above the 2008 flood levels. This means that unless we have a flood event bigger than 2008, the flood risk has been mitigated.

There are additional things we can do – concrete floors, raised electrical service, air conditioning on the roof – that will further reduce any risks.

Let’s even go so far as to say that this property floods every June. I would argue that having the center 11 out of every 12 months would be worth it.

Law enforcement officers like the location. It offers the opportunity to both build what we need now and to expand in the future, if necessary. Similarly, we can build separate buildings if state rules and regulations end up requiring it. It is on a bus line. And the price was pretty reasonable.

It is pretty rare that any decision is risk free. There is always some level of risk. There are also risks in failing to act. We have waited long enough. It is time to act.

Again, a “no” vote does not help law enforcement officers, who have begged for help for decades.

A “no” vote does not help family members, who have begged for help for decades.

A “no” vote does not help people who would be served by the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center, who have needed help for decades.

A “no” vote helps no one.

I am proud of the work we have done so far, and proud of my vote on this property. People with mental illnesses and their families deserve better. It is time we took this step.

• • •

I am extremely disheartened by UI President Harreld’s decision to close the UI Labor Center. This decision is shortsighted, and will negatively impact worker safety and training statewide.

It reinforces the idea that education is a commodity to be purchased by the wealthy, rather than a commitment of the state to all its’ residents. I sincerely hope this decision will be reconsidered.

And I would be lying if I said this wasn’t personal. The people at the Labor Center are my friends. My heart aches.

It is important to note that other UI Centers were eliminated. The process used to make these cuts was neither transparent nor effective; the UI blows through money at a remarkable rate. Almost every employee could point to an area where $100,000 could be saved.

Why not enlist their help, and get their buy-in? Save money and preserve programs.

What can you do? I will give you the same answer I have given before: Vote.

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