Maryland lawmakers could spend $12M to improve mental health crisis hotline if bill moves forward

A bill funding the 988 suicide and crisis prevention hotline with up to $12 million in 2025 is likely to be introduced by the Maryland State Senate.

While the federal government has given out more than $280 million nationwide, state officials are overwhelmed by the need for such services. In Maryland, a state senator who represents a portion of Prince George’s County wants to convince other lawmakers and ultimately Gov. Wes Moore that spending $12 million more in Maryland from state coffers is worth it to taxpayers.

ProposedbillSponsored by state Sen. Malcolm Augustine, a Democrat who represents District 47, would allocate state funds to existing crisis call centers, mobile crisis teams, crisis stabilization centers and other behavioral health services.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services, through its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, established 988 last year as an easy-to-remember number that anyone nationwide can call instead of dialing 911. Can call in case of emergency.

while the federal governmentgave Of the $105 million state funding to staff crisis call centers and $177 million to strengthen and build infrastructure, Augustine and advocates alike say it’s not enough.

Calls have flooded in to 200 centers across the country, indicating some states need to increase their 988 capacity. The federal government also wants states to eventually take over their own hotlines.

“It takes money, it’s a good commitment of money,” Augustine told WYPR. “We want to make sure that we reduce the amount of time that people have to wait for calls.”

Maryland has a call center with 140 agents, By July 2022.

The hotline was in November 2022contact nationwide by call, text or chat more than 400,000 times, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Compared to November 2021, the hotline saw a 38% increase in calls, a 289% increase in chats, and a 1,227% increase in text messages.

Last year, Maryland988 Trust Fund To ensure that the program will have a funding stream. Maryland legislators approved $5 million for the program’s first year and another $5.5 million for 2024.

Dan Rabbitt, policy director for Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore, told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee this week that, if anything, the $12 million for 2025 is an underestimation of the state’s need to provide 988 services.

“We received $12 million from the February 2021 SAMHSA estimate of what the state of Maryland would need for an adequate 988 Lifeline network,” he said. “That analysis said Maryland would need $10 million to $18 million in the first year. We’re halfway through the first year. We felt $12 million was in line with that. We think it’s a good investment.” Is.”

Maryland, like the rest of the country, is facing a mental health crisis according to health experts.

Nearly 13% of young adults had serious thoughts about suicide from 2017 to 2019, double the number from 10 years earlier, according to SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Mental Health Services, the most recent.report good on Maryland.

More than 190,000 adults in Maryland said they had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year. In 2021, more than 48,000 people died by suicide across the country.

However, most of Maryland’s mental health statistics still don’t take into account the lingering coronavirus pandemic, which has spanned nearly three years. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Health say the situation is far worse.

One statistic that highlights the reality of the mental health crisis in Maryland is the frequency of emergency room visits.

According to the Maryland Department of Health, in 2018, mental health contributed to 11.5% of emergency room visits statewide. In 2021, this number increases to about 48%.

Some argue that the state is ahead of many of its peers in funding and expanding crisis hotlines.

only 11 states haveEstablished A trust fund and five have implemented the small fees paid for 911 to pay for 988 call centers.

The Maryland Hospital Association, an advocacy group representing the interests of hospital membership, and insurance giant Kaiser Permanente both spoke in favor of Augustine’s bill at the hearing.

But opponents of the bill said they feared that call operators working with emergency services could exacerbate mental health conditions or expose undocumented residents by sending police instead of behavioral health specialists when police ask them during routine visits. Inquires about immigration status.

State Senator Augustine said most crises are resolved at the call level and the need for physical intervention is not addressed.

“We know that as we get people more engaged with 988, it will provide some relief to our 911 system,” he said. “We’re getting people who are dealing with a behavioral health crisis directly to the right resources.”

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