House passes Orwall’s 988 lifeline for suicide prevention and crisis response

OLYMPIA—Today the Washington House of Representatives passed HB 1477 by Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines) to improve the state’s suicide and behavioral health crisis response system implementing the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act which designated 988 as the new national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline number. The bill passed with a bipartisan vote of 78 to 18.

“For most individuals in our community the only number they know is 911,” said Orwall. She continued, “This may result in an officer arriving at your door.  Officers are not social workers, nor do they want to be. Sadly, one in four police shooting involve persons experiencing a behavioral health crisis.”

Watch Rep. Orwall’s full Floor remarks:

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, who sponsored the Senate companion bill, said, “Having a behavioral health crisis is not illegal. It is a cry for help. That cry for help deserves an immediate and robust response to get people the assistance they need from appropriate behavioral health services, with coordination from law enforcement only when safety is an issue. This bill is a critical step to create that statewide behavioral health response system.”

The bill was originally introduced under a different bill number but was reintroduced to accommodate a change to the bill title.

The legislation was amended in the Appropriations Committee to establish the 988 Implementation Team (Team) and the Crisis Response Improvement Strategy Committee (Committee). The Team consists of nine members from state agencies, crisis call centers, those with expertise in behavioral health crisis responses and lived experience with behavioral health conditions, and from the behavioral health crisis delivery system. The Team must provide guidance in implementing the 988 crisis hotline and the resources required for staffing, training, and technology for call centers to achieve an instate call response of at least 90 percent. The Team must report to the Governor and the Legislature by January 1, 2022.

The Committee consists of 17 members, including the membership from the Team, legislators, and representatives of behavioral health administrative services organizations, Medicaid managed care organizations, and the American Indian Health Commission of Washington State. By January 1, 2023, the Committee must review and report to the Governor and the Legislature on several topics, including:

  • a comprehensive assessment of the behavioral health crisis services system;
  • recommendations for ensuring equity in services for individuals of diverse cultures and in tribal, urban, and rural communities;
  • a work plan with timelines to implement local responses to calls to the 988 crisis hotline within Washington;
  • the necessary components of a new statewide, technologically advanced behavioral health crisis call center system;
  • the establishment of a system and standards that require behavioral health providers to maintain and update real-time information regarding the availability of behavioral health beds and outpatient appointments;
  • the development of a plan for the statewide equal distribution of crisis stabilization services and beds, peer respite services, and behavioral health urgent care;
  • requirements for health plans, managed care organizations, and behavioral health administrative services organizations to include coverage to assign a care coordinator to and provide next day appointments for enrollees seeking services through the crisis system;
  • cost estimates for each of the components recommended by the Committee.

The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

Seattle Times op-ed by Rep. Tina Orwall and Sen. Manka Dhingra

January 13 press release on bill introduction