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Two years in, evaluating 988 in Wisconsin, other states

Source: Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Two years in, evaluating 988 in Wisconsin, other states

The report's authors said the overall goal is to reduce the effects of "deficient" crisis response.

July 4, 2024 7:52 AM CDT

By: Mike Moen / Public News Service

WISCONSIN (Public News Service) – A new report examined the rollout of the 988 mental-health crisis line in each state, including Wisconsin.

The revamped National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is nearing its second anniversary.

While the report from the mental health advocacy organization Inseparable said progress is needed, it noted the change was a critical step toward providing better care.

It’s been two years since the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was revamped, creating an easy-to-remember, three-digit number, 988. There was hope the change would also lead to more crisis response teams around the country. A new report details some of the progress in each state, as well as remaining gaps.

For Wisconsin’s operation, the findings show the call answer rate is 77%, below the desired level of 90%.

Abigail Spanjers, executive director of the La Crosse Lighthouse Peer Run Respite and Warmline, said for the broader service, she’d like to see more trauma-informed training.

“988 is a good overall resource for individuals,” Spanjers noted. “However, we find that people are frequently put in a position where they have to navigate those calls differently, because if they come up with a ‘trigger word,’ it could end up triggering a wellness check.”

She pointed out in some cases, the caller is simply looking for someone to talk with. In financing state-level systems, the report credited Wisconsin for having an enhanced Medicaid match for mobile response but it called on the Badger State to join others in adopting a telecom fee to help ensure more stable funding.

The report’s authors said the overall goal is to reduce the effects of “deficient” crisis response. Since
2015, almost one in five fatal police shootings involved a person experiencing a mental health emergency.

Angela Kimball, chief advocacy officer for Inseparable, said too often, there is a tragic outcome when people cannot get the necessary help.

“At a less severe level, we see a lot of people who end up in crowded emergency departments,” Kimball observed. “Frankly, emergency departments are getting so filled up with people with severe mental health challenges that they’re experiencing something called ‘ED boarding.'”

ED boarding refers to holding people in the emergency room as they await services. Meanwhile, the report found nationally, more than 80% of calls to 988 are resolved over the phone and for those who require mobile response teams, 70% are resolved in the field.

Disclosure: Inseparable contributes to our fund for reporting on Criminal Justice, Health Issues, Mental Health, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

This article originally appeared on Wisconsin News Connection, a division of Public News Service.

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