Rep. Shallcross Smith bill would create a behavioral health crisis services system, suicide prevention hotline
STATE HOUSE — Rep. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith (D-Dist. 46, Lincoln, Pawtucket) has introduced legislation (2022-H 7389) that would establish a core state behavioral health crisis services system.
The system, which would be administered by the director of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, would include establishing and administering a 9-8-8 suicide prevention hotline, establishing mobile crisis response teams, and establishing a revolving trust fund to pay for the costs of the system generated by a fee on subscribers of commercial land line telephone, mobile telephone and/or IP-enabled voice services.
“We’ve seen a huge jump in the mental health needs of children, especially adolescents, because of the way the COVID pandemic has isolated them and affected the way they interact and behave,” said Representative Shallcross Smith. “Even before the pandemic, we began seeing a spike in suicide attempts and mental health-related hospitalizations. This legislation would ease the burden on hospitals — and more importantly on families — by addressing these mental health issues when they first develop through early intervention.”
According to Rhode Island Kids Count, in 2019, there were 2,903 emergency department visits and 1,841hospitalizations of Rhode Island children with the primary diagnosis of a mental disorder; 15 percent of high school students reported attempting suicide at least once during the previous 12 months, and 174 teens were hospitalized after a suicide attempt — nearly double the number in 2014. These numbers are expected to spike when the next Kids Count report comes out in May.
Under the legislation, the designated hotline center would have the authority to deploy crisis and outgoing services, including mobile crisis teams, and coordinate access to crisis receiving and stabilization services. The center would also actively collaborate with mental health and substance use disorder treatment providers including hospital emergency departments and inpatient psychiatric settings, and local community mental health centers.
Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, testified in favor of the bill front of the House Finance Committee, saying, “I would like to give Rhode Island Kids Count’s strong support for Representative Shallcross Smith’s legislation. We think this is a very important bill at a very important time. We have a real crisis on our hands, and this is the opportunity to do something really holistic and sustainable to address those needs here in Rhode Island.”
Melissa Ames, Rhode Island Board Chair of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, submitted testimony for the bill as well.
“Rhode Island must invest in our local crisis call centers and the continuum of community crisis services that can support callers needing an in-person response,” Ames said. “A 988-crisis services system that is effectively resourced and promoted will reduce healthcare spending with early intervention, reduce the burden on emergency rooms and law enforcement, and improve outcomes for individuals experiencing a suicide or mental health crisis. It will also ensure more equitable access to and fill gaps in the current crisis response system, particularly those that affect rural and underserved communities.”
The legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Julie Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter), Rebecca M. Kislak, (D-Dist. 4, Providence), John J. Lombardi (D-Dist. 8, Providence), David Morales (D-Dist. 7, Providence), Michelle E. McGaw (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton), Brianna Henries (D-Dist. 64, East Providence), Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket), Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung (R-Dist. 15, Cranston) and Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown).