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State House passes 988 lifeline number for suicide prevention, crisis response

Orwall sponsor of bill to implement national hotline

The state House of Representatives passed House Bill 1477 sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, to improve the state’s suicide and behavioral health crisis response system implementing the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act which designated 988 as the new national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline number.

The bill passed March 17 with a bipartisan vote of 78 to 18.

“For most individuals in our community the only number they know is 911,” said Orwall in her remarks on final passage of the bill. “This may result in an officer arriving at your door. Officers are not social workers, nor do they want to be. Sadly, one in four police shooting involve persons experiencing a behavioral health crisis.”

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, sponsored the Senate companion bill.

“Having a behavioral health crisis is not illegal,” Dhingra said. “It is a cry for help. That cry for help deserves an immediate and robust response to get people the assistance they need from appropriate behavioral health services, with coordination from law enforcement only when safety is an issue. This bill is a critical step to create that statewide behavioral health response system.”

The bill was originally introduced under a different bill number but was reintroduced to accommodate a change to the bill title.

The legislation was amended in the Appropriations Committee to establish the 988 Implementation Team (Team) and the Crisis Response Improvement Strategy Committee (Committee). The team consists of nine members from state agencies, crisis call centers, those with expertise in behavioral health crisis responses and lived experience with behavioral health conditions, and from the behavioral health crisis delivery system.

The team must provide guidance in implementing the 988 crisis hotline and the resources required for staffing, training, and technology for call centers to achieve an instate call response of at least 90%. The team must report to the governor and the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2022.

The committee consists of 17 members, including the membership from the team, legislators, and representatives of behavioral health administrative services organizations, Medicaid managed care organizations and the American Indian Health Commission of Washington State. By Jan. 1, 2023, the committee must review and report to the governor and the Legislature on several topics, including:

• A comprehensive assessment of the behavioral health crisis services system

• Recommendations for ensuring equity in services for individuals of diverse cultures and in tribal, urban and rural communities

• A work plan with timelines to implement local responses to calls to the 988 crisis hotline within Washington

• The necessary components of a new statewide, technologically advanced behavioral health crisis call center system

• The establishment of a system and standards that require behavioral health providers to maintain and update real-time information regarding the availability of behavioral health beds and outpatient appointments

• The development of a plan for the statewide equal distribution of crisis stabilization services and beds, peer respite services, and behavioral health urgent care

• Requirements for health plans, managed care organizations, and behavioral health administrative services organizations to include coverage to assign a care coordinator to and provide next day appointments for enrollees seeking services through the crisis system

• Cost estimates for each of the components recommended by the committee

The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

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