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Report: WA 988 crisis line rollout successful but more work needed

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new report examines the rollout of the 988 mental health crisis line in each state and finds Washington state has fared well but still has more work to do.

The national three-digit 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is nearing its second anniversary. The report showed Washington has implemented accountability and finance steps to ensure the program’s success.

Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, sponsored a bill in 2021 to help implement 988 in the state.

“We really wanted to create components that would be trauma-informed, culturally sensitive and more responsive,” Orwall outlined. “In the report it really talks about a place to call, someone to respond and a place to go, and so we really have focused on those components.”

The report from the mental health advocacy organization Inseparable highlighted how Washington state set up the Native and Strong Lifeline, which serves Indigenous people.

Angela Kimball, chief advocacy officer for Inseparable, said one issue states need to solve is finances, including how the program is funded and ensuring services are available to everyone regardless of their health insurance status.

“A system has to be built to not just be dependent on Medicaid, for example,” Kimball suggested. “Legislatures actually need to take the step to ensure that there are other funding sources besides Medicaid.”

Orwall noted the Legislature will work on ensuring there are more crisis centers and responders are quicker. She stressed the goal is to have fewer police responding to mental health crises.

“Often people in crisis that need to go to another place like a crisis relief center are put in the back of the police car,” Orwall pointed out. “That can be traumatizing as well.”

Featured photo: The mental health crisis line 988 was activated nationwide in July 2022. (7N23/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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