State leaders prepare for implementation of the 988 call line


Shane Ersland


Behavioral health officials discussed the implementation of the 988 suicide prevention call line at a meeting on Tuesday.


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Members of the Crisis Response Improvement Strategy (CRIS) Committee discussed the national 988 call line, which is a universal number people can call to receive personal assistanceor help for a loved one—if they are suffering from a mental health crisis. The suicide prevention system provides immediate treatment and intervention services.

The 988 service will be activated on July 16th, following the passage of House Bill 1477 in May 2021. The bill authorized the implementation of the 988 service to expand behavioral health crisis response and suicide prevention services. CRIS and its steering committee have been working to integrate the system for state use.

Michele Roberts, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Washington State Department of Health’s (DOH) Prevention and Community Health Division, said DOH was recently awarded $2.6 million from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which will help with the 988 service’s integration. The money will help the state’s behavioral health facilities respond to 988 calls by funding the addition of new workers and coordination efforts with national suicide prevention lifeline crisis centers. Eighty-five percent of the funds will be distributed to three national suicide prevention lifeline crisis centers. 

“The three lifeline centers will focus on workforce development by developing student intern and follow-up programs and developing in-house training capacity,” Roberts said.

Some behavioral health facility operators discussed their plans to prepare for the 988 service. Spokane’s Frontier Behavioral Health Chief Operating Officer Jan Tokumoto said the facility is implementing a new phone system, refining training curriculum, and trying to stabilize its workforce. Staff there will also have a new office soon, which will provide more space for new workers.

“We decided we needed a new location for staff,” Tokumoto said. “We’re going to be moving to a temporary location. Then, in about six weeks, they will be moved to a larger destination.”

Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines) and Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) discussed their recent trip to Arizona to learn about behavioral health services there. They were impressed with RI International’s use of SAMHSA’s “Peer First” treatment modelwhich features peer support workers who have been successful in recovery and help others in similar situationsand said a similar system could be helpful in Washington.

“If we want to transform our system, we have to go to a model that [works for] every person every time,” Dhingra said. “Other states have gotten there. I hope with Peer First, we can create the system we all want in Washington.”