States Need More Resources to Meet Expected Demand for Crisis Hotline Restart: Report

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Instead of dialing 911, you will soon be able to call 988 for a mental health emergency. But will the states be ready?

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will be available nationwide as 988 starting July 16, 2022, heralded as “911” for a mental health crisis. But there is concern that many states will not be ready to meet the expected increase in services, according to a recent New York Times relationship.

“The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is award nearly $ 105 million in grants, provided by the American Rescue Plan, to 54 states and territories prior to the transition of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from the current 10-digit number to the July three-digit 988 prefix, “for the Department’s press of US health and human services publication.

According to the Times, the federal money will help 988 operators not only advise callers, but also dispatch rescuers who will hopefully reduce the demand currently placed on both armed law enforcement and emergency rooms when someone is in. a mental health crisis.

The crisis hotline currently receives a response from a nationwide network of more than 180 call centers, but many operate on a tight budget, with little or no support from states. According to the Times, some states without funding are resorting to fundraisers such as golf outings and charity breakfasts to pay their bills.

But even with the influx of federal money, many states may not be fully equipped to successfully route and respond to the massive influx of mental health emergency calls expected in July, according to the National Alliance on Mental. illness.


“If states don’t properly prepare for the 988 looming launch, lives will continue to be derailed or lost, largely due to an inappropriate response to the crisis, “said Vincent Atchity, CEO of Mental Health Colorado, who works with policy makers, law enforcement and lawyers nationwide to ensure 988 is successfully launched.

President Donald J. Trump signed the law establishing the hotline as 988 in October 2020, giving state lawmakers the ability to raise funds for call centers with a monthly fee on phone bills, as is the case with calls to services. health emergency, which gross about $ 3 billion each year, according to Times.

The rates could also pay for response teams that can be sent to those in need during a mental health crisis and can also help for specialized triage centers, but these can be very expensive, according to the Times.

States and territories will receive SAMHSA grants ranging from $ 250,000 to over $ 14 million to help build local 988 capacity, according to the place.

But Atchity told Fox News “… an investment of $ 250,000 is not enough to cover personnel and infrastructure costs, particularly in the long term.”

“While this funding is a great start, this is really just a drop in the bucket. Even with this funding, many states remain seriously ill-prepared to handle the massive influx of emergency calls they are about to receive.”

But exactly how to pay for 988 has become a “contentious” issue for states, with some lawmakers reluctant to add a payment structure that appears to be a new tax, while others see 988 as unnecessary due to other resources already available, according to the news Jack.

Only a few states, including Colorado where Atchity works, have authorized a phone bill charge for 988, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“The model state legislation is available for policy makers and advocates to change the way their community responds to people in mental health crises. The model of legislation also includes a new funding mechanism for states to create a monthly rate on all telephone lines, similar to how communities finance 911, to ensure that 988 funding is sustainable and that these emergency services will not suffer. funding gaps, “according to the mental health website.

According to a New York Times data analysis, about 17% of Lifeline’s current calls last year were abandoned before a caller could get help, while 41% of text messages and 73% of online chats remained. without answer.

The newspaper claimed the calls and messages were “… abandoned for a variety of reasons, but in interviews, callers blamed waiting times and call center managers complained of limited capacity.”

“We hope 988 helps change these realities,” said Atchity, who is also the leader of Care Not Cuffs, a nationwide campaign to address unmet mental health needs with health care rather than incarceration.


It also warns rural communities perhaps worst prepared to respond to the 988 launch, as many can afford to have only one call-response center covering hundreds of square miles, meaning those living in rural and frontier areas will experience much longer response times to mental health emergencies.

“Leaders at both the federal and state levels must guarantee that legislation and support are put in place to ensure that rural and border communities are not left behind in the launch of 9-8-8. No one should die of a mental health emergency simply because he lives outside an urban or suburban setting, ”Atchity noted.

“Lifeline’s current phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicide crises, even after 988 is launched nationwide,” the national network She said.

“When people call, text, or chat on 988, they will be connected to qualified counselors who are part of the existing national network of suicide prevention lifelines. These trained counselors will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support and link them to resources as needed. ”


On May 20, May 27, and June 3, Mental Health Colorado will host a National Rural Summit on Mental Health and Criminal Justice where any provider working at the intersection of mental health and criminal justice in rural areas is invited to attend to find out more. more on how to address the unique challenges impacting rural communities in the 988 launch.

More information on participating in the Summit Series can be found here.