Establishment and operation of the national mental health crisis line 988

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The national 988 helpline was launched over the weekend, offering those experiencing or witnessing a mental health crisis just three numbers to dial to be connected to response services without being routed by a police dispatcher.

The new number, which replaces the Suicide Prevention Hotline, is part of a nationwide effort to overhaul the delivery of mental health care and, where possible, keep police in check. mental health crisis response gap. But it’s a small step.

For now, calls and texts that arrive at the 988 number will be routed to state suicide prevention call centers, including a dozen in California. Calls made in Humboldt County will be routed to a state call center in Yolo County and from there redirected to the county’s 24-hour crisis line: 445-7715, or no fees at (888) 849-5728. (For now, these numbers remain the most direct line to local experts waiting for help, but 988 offers an easy-to-remember alternative.)

Humboldt County Assistant Behavioral Health Director Paul Bugnacki said only about 2% of hotline calls statewide are transferred for emergency response, and state officials have expressed the hope that 988 could reduce the number of mental health crisis calls coming into emergency dispatch centers. The new hotline won’t change much on the ground in Humboldt County, Bugnacki said, though he said he may consider adding a position to the county’s Crisis Stabilization Unit, in based on call volume.

Meanwhile, local agencies and the county continue to work toward the larger vision of having trained teams of mental health clinicians ready to respond directly to emergencies without police, where possible.

County Behavior Health is currently working with the Eureka Police Department, Arcata Police Department, and Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office to have mental health teams co-respond to certain calls — or work certain beats — with sworn agents. Bugnacki said teams are also in place to visit local hospitals when police bring someone into mental health custody to assess whether the person meets the legal criteria for detention or could potentially be treated or monitored in a setting. less restrictive.

Eureka, meanwhile, appears to be the closest local entity to implementing the architects of 988’s comprehensive vision of providing an emergency mental health response that doesn’t involve the police at all.

Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery said the program has been in the works for more than a year, but the city has hired a mental health clinician who is scheduled to start Aug. 1. The clinician will lead a small team operating out of a city-owned van. which will respond directly to calls for service related to mental health, although Slattery said he was still determining whether those calls would go through police dispatch, 988 or a combination.

Many details about exactly how the program will work — including who will be hired to staff it with funds already allocated by the city council — will be determined in coordination with the clinician, Slattery said, adding that the city really wants them to take the initiative to build the intervention system.

“The intention, however, is for us to be much more proactive,” Slattery said.

Bugnacki, meanwhile, said that while Humboldt County is ahead of many jurisdictions when it comes to forming partnerships between mental health professionals and law enforcement, it is constantly looking for ways to extend these services. Funding sources are starting to open up, he said, but the biggest challenge is finding trained professionals to send into the field, saying clinicians, case managers and peer coaches are in demand. .

“The money is there, the partners are there – we just don’t have the manpower,” he said.

But 988 is a big step for the nation, he said, noting that this – along with a bill currently being drafted by the state Legislature that would add an annual account fee mobile phones to help fund mental health intervention services — are signs that the state and the nation are beginning to “focus more on mental health.”

If you are or witness a mental health emergency, call the local county line at 445-7715, or toll-free at (888) 849-5728, or call or text the national line at 988.

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