O'Brien County updated on access center

Shane Walter, chief executive officer of Sioux Rivers Mental Health & Disabilities Services, speaks to the O’Brien County Board of Supervisors Tuesday about the potential to set up a regional mental-health access center in Sheldon.

PRIMGHAR—Shane Walter wants O’Brien County to be home to a mental-health access center.

The chief executive officer of Sioux Rivers Mental Health & Disabilities Services spoke to the board of supervisors Tuesday, Jan. 12, about what such a center would provide.

“Subacute services, 23-hour observation, crisis assessment, crisis residential, mobile crisis, peer support at some levels,” Walter said. “So there would be a number of services that could be delivered from that facility.”

The Sioux Rivers mental health region encompasses Dickinson, Lyon, O’Brien, Plymouth and Sioux counties. The access center would be one of six such centers in the state mandated by a law that Gov. Kim Reynolds signed in 2018.

The centers would be located in strategic spots around Iowa and would not reject patients. They would provide immediate attention to people experiencing mental-health or substance-abuse issues but who don’t require hospitalization.

Walter visited Sheldon a few times to look at a building located in the northeast part of town that would potentially house the access center.

In follow-up comments to The REVIEW, Walter said the building wasn’t on the market and didn’t want to identify it further but noted the owners were contemplating selling it.

Walter told the supervisors Sioux Rivers has done a request for proposal and a letter of intent. It also received an application from Spencer-based Seasons Center for Behavioral Health to potentially partner with the mental-health region as a service provider. Walter was waiting to hear from Plains Area Mental Health based out of LeMars.

“We’ll be able to weigh out the two applications and determine what we think is best in the region,” Walter said.

Sioux Rivers is seeking to partner with Northwest Iowa Care Connections — a mental-health region that mostly consists of counties to the east of N’West Iowa — when it comes to funding the access center. The center also could serve some clients who live in counties covered by Northwest Iowa Care Connections.

Some renovation work would be required for the building, which Walter estimated could cost $100,000-$200,000. The annual operating costs would be about $1.25 million.

Walter spoke with Melissa Loehr, CEO of Northwest Iowa Care Connections, in what he said was a positive conversation about a possible partnership. She said her mental-health region could contribute about $275,000 a year.

Walter also is hopeful the Iowa Legislature would be able to provide funding toward the access centers. He noted Iowa lawmakers had considered a 1-cent sales tax a couple years ago, a portion of which would have gone toward mental-health services.

“Our max levy is $30.49, which is what we’re going to have to levy of course going into this next year, but with the 1-cent sales tax, three-eighths of that would go toward mental health, which for our region, it would actually raise our effective levy to about $37, maybe $38 per person, but the county contribution would drop to maybe $12,” he said.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic tabled the Legislature’s progress on mental-health policy last year, but Walter is optimistic lawmakers and the governor can focus more on it this year.

“If not, at least some kind of funding at some level has to happen because you can’t expect us to do more and more with the same dollars,” Walter said.

He mentioned other services Sioux Rivers regularly provides and has to pay for, such as working in schools and supporting mental-health centers and facilities such as the Village Northwest Unlimited in Sheldon and Hope Haven based in Rock Valley.

“My hope and prayer is that we can do all that and make this happen as well,” Walter said.

He also spoke about the $977,000 Sioux Rivers was allotted from the state in 2020, which came from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The region spent about $936,000 of that amount.

The deadline by which the region had to spend that money was initially Dec. 31; however, it was extended further into 2021.

“It kind of upsets me because we talked to them early on about, ‘Is there a way we can expand this?’ because that’s a lot of money in a very short amount of time and forces us to make quick decisions and not really give it enough consideration,” Walter said.

Nonetheless, he felt good about how the region was able to divide the money to different mental-health and disability centers, schools and food pantries Sioux Rivers supports.