How Oklahoma is preparing for 988, the number of mental health crises

With a crisis call center provider selected, Oklahoma is gearing up for the July launch of 988, a new national three-digit phone number that people can call in the event of a mental health crisis.

The state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services announced last week that it had selected Arizona-based Solari Crisis and Human Services to operate Oklahoma’s 988 call center.

The state mental health commissioner wants 988 to address and defuse mental health crises in the moment, but also serve as an entry point to connect with other mental health resources. Depending on a person’s needs, this might look like dispatching a mobile crisis team or setting up a follow-up appointment with a local treatment provider.

The launch of 988 is part of the state’s overall crisis response plan and comes at a critical time. During the pandemic, the demand for all levels of mental health care – from telephone crisis intervention to emergency psychiatric care, to inpatient psychiatric care – has increased “so, so much”, said Carrie Slatton-Hodges, the state psychiatric physician. health commissioner.

Currently, if someone in Oklahoma calls the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the call is routed to one of two crisis centers in the state: either Heartline in Oklahoma City or Family and Children’s Services in Tulsa.

But if these local centers cannot respond, calls are then routed to a national emergency center. In 2020, about a quarter of calls to Lifeline from Oklahoma were answered outside the state.

When calls are pushed to out-of-state backups, Oklahomans in crisis may have to wait two to three times longer for someone to be available to speak to them, are more likely to abandon calls, and are less likely to be connected to local mental health services, according to the Lifeline.

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Once Solari manages the state’s 988 call center, those calls will be answered by Solari staff, with Heartline and Family and Children’s Services as backup if Solari is at full capacity, Slatton-Hodges said.

Slatton-Hodges said working with Solari would mean much greater capacity for the state’s response to mental health crises. She said she anticipates Oklahoma will be able to handle nearly 100% of its calls in the state, meaning very few will transition to national call center backups.

Preparation for 988

Mental health advocates and experts expect to see an increase in crisis calls as more people become aware of 988. For some states that are already struggling to keep up with demand, this may to pose a problem.

“States that don’t have infrastructure around (988) — all they have is the national suicide hotline — and they’re not building infrastructure to prepare for July 1, I think they’re going to be incredibly overwhelmed,” Slatton-Hodges said. “But I feel like in Oklahoma we’ll be ready.”

Slatton-Hodges said state mental health officials have long viewed Solari’s work in Arizona as an example of a strong crisis response system.

Using mental health grants the state received as part of COVID stimulus funding, the state will pay Solari approximately $5 million in its first year of operating the call center at the statewide, then about $3.5 million a year for two years after that, a spokesperson for the department said.

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Solari was launched in 2007 offering crisis line services in Arizona and since then has expanded to other services in the state, such as running a peer support “warm line”. 24/7 and dispatching mobile crisis teams, said Beth Brady, senior director of Solari. brand development and education.

The company has consulted with other states to evaluate their crisis systems and implement their crisis center technology, but running the 988 call center in Oklahoma will be Solari’s first time operating a full crisis line. outside of Arizona, Brady said.

“We’re so excited to be moving to Oklahoma and seeing all the great work that’s already being done there,” Brady said.

She said having a three-digit number to call in the event of a mental health crisis would make all the difference in people being able to access care and in removing the stigma around mental illness and suicide.

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The Solari staff members who answer Oklahoma’s 988 Calls may come from a variety of backgrounds, but the company focuses on hiring people with a combination of mental health experience and education.

“Sometimes these people can be licensed professionals, such as a licensed social worker or licensed counsellor,” Brady said. “But it could also be someone who has a bachelor’s degree and maybe a few years of experience as a case manager or working in mental health.”

Crisis center supervisors are all licensed mental health professionals who can step in if an operator needs additional support, she said.

Solari will be hiring for 31 positions and is working to establish its new location in Oklahoma City.

Acquire help

Prior to the launch of 988 this summer, the number is currently not active.

To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline before this date, call 1-800-273-8255 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

the Crisis text line is also available 24/7 by texting HOME on 741741.

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