In one month, Ohioans experiencing a mental health crisis will be able to call or text a three-digit number that will become the new national suicide prevention hotline for every state in the country.
When the 988 hotline launches on July 16, it won't immediately replace the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. But state officials have said that in addition to being easier to remember, the 988 hotline will expand coverage to all corners of the state in order to better respond to Ohioans in mental health crisis.
The federal government is requiring every state to launch its own 988 hotline among its crisis centers. And with the looming rollout little more than four weeks away, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services hosted a virtual news briefing Thursday to provide an update on how the hotline service will be revamped across the state.
"We're confident in the system we're building in Ohio," said Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. "The transition to 988 will not be overnight."
Here are four things Ohioans can expect:
How does the 988 hotline work?
Ohioans who are contemplating suicide, or experiencing another mental health or addiction crisis, will be able to call, text, or chat the 988 number.
Family members who worry that a loved one is experiencing one of those crises may also contact the number.
The caller will be connected with a trained counselor who can offer help, such as connecting the person with a mobile crisis response team that may include a first responder or a clinical counselor.
Those experiencing a life-threatening emergency should continue to call 911, Criss said, but the 988 hotline is also intended to alleviate 911 call volumes.
What will be different?
Criss said that crisis call centers in Ohio have long struggled to obtain the level of funding and staffing to support the growing need.
This has led to long waits and, at times, the inability for the caller to connect with someone in-state at a time when suicides are rising steadily. In the last 12 months, 79,358 calls were made in Ohio to the national hotline, and the department estimated that the 988 line could get at least 179,000 calls and texts in just the first year.
In preparation for the launch of the 988 hotline, Ohio has expanded from 12 to 19 crisis center providers. There are two in Franklin County, and one each in Delaware County, Fairfield County and Licking County.
A statewide backup network will also be implemented to meet the goal of a 90% in-state answer rate so that people are less likely to be connected to out-of-state people in a national backup network.
Who will oversee the 988 hotline in Ohio?
Doug Jackson, former deputy director at the Ohio Treasurer's office, was announced Thursday as the administrator of the hotline.
Jackson is also a former superintendent with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities.
How will it be funded?
Funding is in place through June 30, 2023, Criss said. That accounts for the coming 2022-2023 fiscal year, and Criss said her office is working with the Ohio General Assembly to identify a sustainable funding plan.
The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has dedicated about $20 million in federal funding for startup costs in the first year.
On May 25, the Ohio House approved House Bill 468. If approved by the state Senate and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine into law, the bill would establish a repository in the state treasury for Ohio to receive funding for the 988 hotline.
"We're trying to address a problem in our community that we know is a need, and we have to find better ways to do it, more innovative ways to do it," Rep. Gail Pavliga, R-Atwater, the bill's sponsor, said at the news conference. "And I believe 988 does that."
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provided a two-year, $3.3-million grant to Ohio for improving its capacity to take calls, collecting data and for policy development.