Montgomery County preparing for new 988 mental health crisis hotline

People in the U.S. with a mental health emergency by mid 2022 will be able to call 988 to get urgent help.

Montgomery County officials are now laying the groundwork, including launching a county Crisis Now hotline starting Jan. 1 at 833-580-CALL or 833-580-2255. Eventually, that number will become 988 when the infrastructure is set up.

People who call the hotline will talk with a trained behavioral health professional who will assess their needs and determine the next steps for mental health services.

The local call center, operated by RI International and Behavioral Health Link, will also be launching mobile health service teams so clinicians can go on to scenes to provide immediate services as well.

The next phase, which will come in the months afterward, will include a receiving center in downtown Dayton for people in crisis, said Helen Jones-Kelley, CEO of Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services.

Jones-Kelley said this new system will lessen the need for officers to be on a scene of a mental health crisis, which will allow the person to be with a clinician when in crisis and also will leave police free for other calls. She said this model also reduces the number of people who have to go to the emergency room for a mental health crisis.

“It allows a clinician to be directly engaged with the person in that moment of crisis,” she said.

New hotline

The origin of 988 dates back to 2019, when the FCC proposed a three-digit, nationwide number in a report submitted to Congress, as an easy-to-remember number that’s the “911″ of suicide prevention.

Jones-Kelley said over the last two years of planning, the plan has grown from suicide prevention to more broadly address mental health crisis calls.

Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) will be redirected to 988, which is taking over for the longer 10-digit hotline.

Nearly 2.4 million people called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in 2020, including about 72,560 in Ohio, according to data reported by the hotline. About 17,000 callers were transferred to the Veterans Crisis Line.

Jones-Kelley said in an announcement about the new hotline that residents are still hurting from years of trauma, COVID-19 cases continue to rise, overdose deaths are the highest in Montgomery County in three years, and calls to the suicide prevention hotline are up 30%.

“We must take bold action to provide the help and resources people need during this unprecedented time,” said Jones-Kelley.

The requirement to transition to 988 as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline will take effect on July 16. Similar to the current hotline, anyone in the U.S. will be able to call 988 and be connected to a professional within the national network of crisis call centers.

Next steps

Montgomery County will have a mobile response team starting Jan. 1 and eventually a 23-hour receiving center to pair with the 988 system.

Kevin Huckshorn, a leader with RI International, said mobile health response teams are staffed with mental health professionals and peer support specialists.

Huckshorn said RI International already operates in 10 other states and she said they have found that in over 70% of crisis calls they are able to manage the emergency on site where they meet the person without needing to go to another site.

They are currently working on finalizing a space in Dayton for a receiving center, where people who need more care could be brought. At the 16-bed facility, people could be treated for up to 23 hours, talk to staff about what they need, and get care needed like medication, counseling, detox or outside referrals.

She said a small percentage of people would need transferred to a longer-term setting than the 23-hour center.

Huckshorn, who said she has a background as a nurse, said this setting is better for people in a mental health crisis than being held in an ER.

“The system in most emergency rooms was never really developed to serve people with behavioral health challenges,” she said.

As 988 rolls out across the country, it will be covered through layers of funding. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline already has its own infrastructure. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the federal agency helping set up 988, has announced several rounds of grants to help set up the new system. The Montgomery County receiving center will accept and treat anyone in need, with or without insurance, but plans to bill Medicaid and other insurance when it can.

How to get help

The 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available now at 800-273-8255 for free and confidential support and connection to resources. By July 16, 2022, people will be able to call 988 to reach help.

Montgomery County’s Crisis Now hotline will go live Jan. 1 at 833-580-CALL or 833-580-2255. This number also will eventually become 988 when the infrastructure is in place.

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