A bill aimed at helping those experiencing a mental health crisis moved forward via way of a 11-2 committee vote on Tuesday.
The bill, AB 988 would create a three-digit phone number 988 as an alternative to 911 so individuals and their families know and can trust that help is only one call away.
Assembly Bill 988 will implement the new nationwide 988 Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Hotline created last year by the Federal Communications Commission and Congress. The 988 hotline, which all states must implement by July 2022, replaces an underutilized, hard-to-remember 10-digit number.
The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) in February in partnership with The Steinberg Institute, The Kennedy Forum, Contra Costa County, NAMI of Contra Costa County, and the Miles Hall Foundation, the organizations sponsoring the legislation.
According to her bill, it would create call centers that will connect people calling or texting 988 with trained counselors and dispatch mobile crisis support teams – staffed by mental health professionals and trained peers instead of police officers – to help a person in crisis. The bill mandates that calls to 911 reporting a mental health crisis be transferred to 988 and that operators for both lines have the capacity to coordinate if medical, fire or law enforcement responders are needed.
“The current system relies on law enforcement and confinement and puts people suffering from mental illness through an expensive and traumatizing revolving-door as they shuttle between jails, emergency rooms, and the street,” said Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan in February. “A comprehensive crisis response system can help prevent these tragedies, save money, and increase access to the right kind of care. There are too many stories like that of Miles. We must make significant changes in how we respond to those suffering from a mental health crisis.”
With calls to existing suicide prevention call centers skyrocketing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – including by 8,000 percent at one Los Angeles-based call center – AB 988 will ensure the state is prepared to answer the calls of all Californians in need.
The Miles Hall Lifeline Act is named for Miles Hall, a 23-year-old African American man who was shot and killed by officers in 2019 while in the midst of a mental health crisis. His mother, Taun Hall, had spoken to police officers about her son numerous times over several years and had called the local police department the day before the shooting to warn that Miles was having an unstable period.