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The Impact – 988 Hotline and Crisis Response

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

New legislation puts Washington closer to a paradigm shift in suicide and mental health crisis response, a statewide network of specially trained counselors on standby to talk someone down over the phone, or if need be, to show up in person.  

The core of the effort is the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The three digit dialing code 988 is now reserved exclusively for mental health crisis and suicide prevention services nationwide, just as 911 is reserved for police, fire, and medical emergencies

This week on the Impact, we look at the push to streamline and support the state’s suicide prevention hotline and create another option for   responding to mental health crisis situations. 

In 2021, the legislature passed House Bill 1477, to support the new 988 dialing code and expand mobile rapid response crisis teams as an alternative to law enforcement. 

The bill created an excise tax on phone service to fund the 988 hotline, which is currently 40 cents per line. 

This year Washington State leaders took another step towards changing the  crisis response system with House Bill 1134.

The bill establishes an endorsement for mobile rapid response crisis teams and community-based crisis teams that meet staffing, vehicle, and training standards.

The increase in crisis response support on the front end comes at a time when Washington is experiencing a shortage of available mental health and behavioral health treatment capacity.  Another bill that  cleared the legislature this year is meant to address that. Senate Bill 5120 directs the Washington StateDepartment of Health and the Health Care Authority to  adopt rules to certify crisis relief facilities  by January first of 2024.

 The facilities must be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for walk-ins, drop-offs, or referrals. They are intended to be an alternative to emergency rooms or jails. 

“I worked 20 years in behavioral health and I’ve never seen such an opportunity to redo our crisis system, because often people are actually traumatized that are actually trying to seek help,” said Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines), prime sponsor of House Bill 1134 and House Bill 1477.

 “It would be really nice to just have one number that’s really streamlined, that is responsive, because if you are ever, as a loved one, trying to help someone during that crisis, it is not user friendly at all,” said Rep. Michelle Caldier (R-Gig Harbor), republican co-sponsor of HB 1134.