Officials start to budget for Johnson Co. behavioral health center

Published: Nov. 29, 2017 at 6:08 PM CST
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Johnson County is ready to make its behavioral health center a reality.

It's been talked about for a couple years, but officials are getting on board. Some county supervisors and officers went to San Antonio last year to tour their center. It's a prison deterrent system, where authorities try to help those struggling with things like mental health and addiction. The goal is to find them help and keep them out of prison.

Some people have concerns about the cost of the project and where the money would come from. The idea is to split the estimated 6.5 million dollar cost between the county, Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty. The behavioral health access center is getting a lot of support because many said it will be a game changer.

The E.R. or jail have been the only options for officers to take people having a behavioral health crisis. The Johnson County Sheriff's Department said that's about to change.

"We need to figure out how we can divert people when they come in contact with the criminal justice system away from jail and emergency rooms and this is the piece of the puzzle we're looking to fill," said Major Steve Dolezal with the Johnson County Sheriff's Department.

Contractors need to be hired to provide services at the center and construction probably won't start for another year, but the ball is now rolling.

"Now we're actually at the place where they're saying alright we're going to put it in our budgets, we're going to set the contracts and then it will be a matter of bringing it to fruition," said Jessica Peckover, the county's jail alternatives coordinator.

"The idea that we've now pushed the train down the tracks to say we're going to make this happen is huge," said Major Dolezal.

Primary numbers show the county and Iowa City footing 80 percent of the bill. Other small cities in the county could still chip in, and final percentages are still being worked out. Dolezal said the center will more than make up for it.

"You ultimately end up saving the taxpayers money and ultimately keep the public and the officers safer," said Major Dolezal.

"This is going to make a big difference in terms of their physical health, mental health and addiction issues to have that service readily available. I think we're going to see a lot of benefits that we didn't even anticipate," said Peckover.

Johnson County's Board of Supervisors discussed moving forward with the center at their meeting today. The Johnson County Sheriff's Office said the behavioral health center will be the final piece to the puzzle.

"We have trained over 140 area law enforcement officers in how to deal with subjects that are having behavioral health issues but we didn't give them the resources to take them somewhere to get that proper treatment," said Major Dolezal.