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988 is a lifeline for those who are in crisis

With the nationwide implementation of the new three-digit 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in July 2022, Franklin County has benefited from a streamlined, easily accessible way to connect anyone who needs support for suicidal ideation, mental health or substance abuse crises to 24/7 care.

Our Franklin County community has begun to embrace 988 as an emergency resource for behavioral health crises. As the Columbus Dispatch recently reported, call volumes are surging.

In October there were 451 calls answered through the local 988 call center. By January that number had risen to 1,285.

In Franklin County, 988 calls are responded to by North Central Mental Health Services, with Netcare Access providing back-up and response to text and chat.

The two agencies have years of crisis response experience and have long been funded for call center operations and other services by the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County.

As more and more people become accustomed to calling 988 for behavioral health crises, the greatest challenge is sustainability.

Currently, there are no long-term dollars dedicated to maintaining 988 operations at either the state or federal level.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposed state budget, as well as the Ohio House’s version, allocates $46.5 million to the program for the 2024 and 2025, and it would be a step in the right direction.

Ohio didn’t build 988, we adopted it based on successful implementations across the nation. It is a tremendous opportunity to support callers, engage clinicians and divert calls away from 911 and avoid unnecessary law enforcement response.

For 988 to reach its full potential, state leaders should prioritize finding a stainable, predictable funding solution to meet the growing need for a dedicated behavioral health crisis line, as a counterpart to 911, when a law enforcement or an emergency medical response is not needed.

The success of 988 can benefit and enhance a community’s 911 response, freeing up first responders to focus on public safety emergencies.

In fact, ADAMH continues to partner with 911 to establish protocols that ensure that individuals calling either number are connected to the most appropriate response for their individual situation.

Local ADAMH data shows that people are more actively seeking help. The 988 call volume represents one of several crisis lines in Franklin County and paints just part of the picture about the need in our community.

Legacy hotlines also are experiencing increased demand, with combined calls of 2,818 in October that increased to 3,600 in January.

Due to the significant call volume, ADAMH provides $1.3 million annually to supplement 988 and other critical local call lines. But that is not enough to sustain, let alone enhance, this lifesaving service.

Our community has proven that 988 is a valuable addition to the crisis services safety net.

We encourage the Ohio Senate to include the 988 funding as part of the biennial state budget. It is the right thing to do for the people of Ohio. Then we can work together on the next step: to find permanent funding sources to maintain this lifeline as a reliable resource for all Ohioans going forward.

Erika Clark Jones is CEO of the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County, a levy-funded agency that supports a network of more than 30 community-based behavioral healthcare providers, ensuring that mental health and addiction prevention, treatment and recovery support services are available to all Franklin County residents.

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