Bill, small fee on phone bills could fund suicide prevention line

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) – Beginning in mid-July, Kentucky will adopt the National Suicide Prevention Line (NSPL) three-digit phone number: 9-8-8. In addition to the number change, lawmakers are discussing a bill that would put a small levy on phone bills to fund this hotline.

Mental Health America of Kentucky says the fee would be about 70 cents per month, which translates to less than $10 per year, to fund what the organization says is a life-saving service. Mental Health America of Kentucky says phone bills already come with a small 9-1-1 surcharge for funding, so the group hopes this legislation will be passed to fund another important phone line.

“What if we didn’t have a phone line? What if there was no answer? What if it’s been pending so long that someone gives up? says Marcie Timmerman, executive director of Mental Health America of Kentucky. “July 16th it’s happening, we have a 9-8-8 changeover and it’s a much easier number to remember, so we’re expecting a high influx of calls, just because it’s so easy to remember and people are finally going to call in. Which is wonderful, we’re going to save the lives of Kentuckians.”

The following is part of a press release from Mental Health America of Kentucky:

House Bill 373 is an opportunity for Kentucky to make mental health a priority across the Commonwealth.

This funding would create a full continuum of crisis care for suicide prevention and mental health, including fully staffed local call centers responding to NSPL calls and increased access to mobile crisis units, crisis stabilization and other complementary services.

The #fund988ky movement has worked closely with the state, community mental health centers that respond to Kentucky’s NSPL calls, the 9-1-1 Emergency Services Board, and other mental health first responders across the whole Commonwealth. Consistent, reliable, and permanent funding structures for Kentucky’s mental health crisis system are already needed — and that need continues to grow.

The vision of those planning the implementation of 9-8-8 in Kentucky is to have a person in mental health or suicidal crisis connected with a trained local counselor who can respond to immediate needs and can put them in contact with ongoing care. This will reduce healthcare costs through cost-effective early intervention, reduce the use of law enforcement and other security resources, and address the growing need for large-scale crisis response. Getting NSPL calls answered locally by fellow Kentucky people is central to the #fund988ky goal. The charge of $0.70 per cell phone line is the same as that charged by the 9-1-1 system. It is collected as part of the individual’s cell phone bill – or up front when purchasing prepaid items.

The fee will create a permanent funding mechanism for mental health crisis response in the same way we have permanent, consistent, and reliable funding for 9-1-1. 9-8-8 is a mental health crisis response and should be funded the same way 9-1-1 is funded as a physical health crisis response system.

Fee-generated revenue would be managed by a multi-party board that will oversee operations and decide what emergency response mechanisms are needed – again repeating a similar structure that exists for the country-wide 9-1-1 fund. ‘State.

We’ve long known that rural Kentuckians and veterans face greater challenges receiving mental health services, and crisis services are no different. Ultimately, mental health needs should be addressed the same way we address physical health needs, and that starts with fully funding 9-8-8.

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