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Indiana lieutenant governor personally urges lawmakers to fund 988 response

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana’s second-highest ranking elected official on Thursday told lawmakers expanding the 988 system’s capabilities will spare other families the pain hers went through.

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, whose duties include co-chairing the Indiana Mental Health Roundtable, took the unusual step of testifying before a Senate panel in support of a bill to formally establish the 988 crisis hotline that went live nationwide in 2022. Crouch lost a sister to suicide years ago, and a brother to alcoholism-related causes in 2022.

“I’ve lived with people that have struggled and I have seen where we, as a state, can do more to help them get the services and be able to connect them with the people that can help them become healthier,” she said.

Besides codifying the 988 system into law, the bill would earmark $30 million over the next two years to fund certified community behavioral health clinics. The money would cover services including mobile crisis response teams, which would meet with people experiencing a mental health crisis if needed.

The bill has bipartisan support. Two of its 11 co-authors are Democrats. Sen. Eddie Melton, of Gary, who is the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told News 8 the bill could reduce the number of instances where police officers shoot someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis.

“This is beyond color. This is beyond party lines,” he said. “This is about the mental health of every single Hoosier in the state of Indiana.”

Calls to the national suicide prevention line spiked nationwide after the new 988 phone number was activated in July. Data reviewed by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that, for the month of August, crisis hotline calls rose by 10% in Indiana compared to August 2021. Nationwide, calls rose by 28%. Despite the increased call volume, wait time dropped in most states, but remained essentially flat in Indiana.

The committee took no action on the bill Thursday because potential amendments were still pending. The bill carries the designation Senate Bill 1. That number is usually assigned to the bill deemed the highest priority by Senate leadership.

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