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Mental health advocates say new 988 funding will save lives

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Gov. Eric Holcomb and mental health advocates on Tuesday said new 988 funding will ensure someone can respond to a person in crisis.

Holcomb held a ceremonial signing for the law at the inaugural Indiana Roundtable on Mental Health in Indianapolis early Tuesday afternoon.

The new law sets up a regulatory framework for behavioral health clinics to work with the 988 mental health crisis line and funds crisis response teams. The measure was the Indiana Senate’s top priority during the legislative session.

Although the 988 system has been operational for nearly a year, not every call center yet has the resources mental health advocates envisioned.

Zoe Frantz, the president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Council of Community Mental Health Centers, says 19 of the state’s 24 mental health centers have mobile crisis response teams that can respond to a 988 call. She says her organization wants such teams available in all 92 counties by 2027.

“We see lives saved through 911, we’ll see the same impact through 988 as well,” she said.

The Governor’s Public Health Commission last year recommended the 988 system receive about $130 million per year. Lawmakers instead set aside $50 million in each of the two years of the biennium that begins July 1.

Steve McCaffrey, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Indiana, says lawmakers will need to find a dedicated revenue source for the system. He says his organization and others plan to lobby lawmakers to do this during the next session.

McCaffrey also says his preference would be a phone surcharge similar to the one that funds 911 centers. Dedicated taxes on alcohol and tobacco have been floated, as well.

“If we don’t have some kind of ongoing funding stream, the funding for services over the years will go up and it will go down, and we will end up with the same situation that we’re in currently,” he said.

For his part, Holcomb says he is satisfied with the funding lawmakers set aside under the new law. He said the law is enough to put the 988 infrastructure in place.

“We got what we needed to get busy, and to get busy building,” he said, adding the $100 million set aside for the 988 system is in addition to other, unrelated mental health programs.

Also on Tuesday, Holcomb ceremonially signed a law that allows police to take detainees to a behavioral health facility instead of jail if circumstances warrant. Both laws go into effect July 1.