Steinberg Institute

California’s commitment of $20 million to launch the 988 crisis line is praised as first step to a comprehensive mental health crisis solution

Posted on Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Contact: Tara Gamboa-Eastman – tara@steinberginstitute.org

On Friday, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) announced it will invest $20 million in California’s network of emergency call centers to support the launch of a new 988 hotline, an alternative to 911 for people seeking help during a mental health crisis. 

This $20 million will be used to connect the 988 number to crisis call centers across the country, building out the network on which the nation’s entire mental health crisis system will rest upon. This commitment will ensure critical investments in workforce expansion, training, capacity development, and coordination of county-run mobile crisis services for these call centers to adapt to the anticipated 300% increase in call volume in just the first year of implementation. In short, next July when a Californian in crisis dials 988, they will be met by a trained mental health professional  on the other end of the line.

Maggie Merritt, Executive Director of the Steinberg Institute:

Thanks to this initial investment, lives will be saved when 988 launches next year. We have more work to do to ensure sustained funding for a response system, and the Steinberg Institute and The Kennedy Forum will continue to lead the charge. Thank you, Governor Gavin Newsom and HHS Secretary Mark Ghaly for your leadership on this important issue.

Former U.S. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, Founder of The Kennedy Forum:

This type of swift action is exactly what we need right now to show the rest of the nation that investing in mental health should be a top priority. California is walking the walk when it comes to deconstructing the antiquated systems that hold far too many people down and harm communities.

Why now? 

Federal legislation requires existing call centers be linked to 988 by July 16, 2022. Last year, Congress took historic action and unanimously passed legislation designating 988 as the new three-digit alternative to 911 for mental health crises nationwide. This easy-to-remember number will transform our nation’s and our state’s mental health crisis system. 

Who helped make this happen? 

This budget initiative was led by the Steinberg Institute and The Kennedy Forum and joined by our co-sponsors the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, Contra Costa County, Los Angeles County, Mental Health America of California, the Miles Hall Foundation, NAMI of California, and NAMI of Contra Costa County. We were thrilled to see the Legislature make this a top priority with Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan — the author of AB 988 — and 52 of her bipartisan colleagues supporting this request.

Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (AD-16):

Knowing that we have these initial funds to get 988 off the ground is an enormous relief. We still have a long way to go to, but I am so grateful that after months of discussions, planning, and advocating, we have the financial support ensures that trained mental health professionals will be ready and able to answer the 988 phone line, giving lifesaving support to those in crisis. This is a significant first step for our state towards treating individuals in crisis as patients, not potential criminals. I fully intend in the next legislative session to continue to build on this success and work to create a steady funding source and to build out a comprehensive 988 response system.

Le Ondra Clark Harvey, Chief Executive Officer of California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies (CBHA):

988 is an essential step strengthening our mental health response system and providing an alternative to 911. The California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies (CBHA) applauds the Newsom Administration’s $20 million commitment to the crisis call centers, though we know the work is not done. We look forward to working with the Administration to continue broadening the reach of 988 and support innovative solutions to mental health crises. CBHA is proud to be a leader in this advocacy effort alongside our colleagues from the Steinberg Institute and Kennedy Forum. The work CBHA’s member agencies do is critical, and we are thrilled that our budget proposal has been funded, allowing this life-saving work to continue.

Dr. Jonathan Sherin, Director of Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health:

In order for California to construct an effective behavioral health system, we must provide proactive, real-time services to individuals needing access to emergent and/or urgent care 24/7/365. The $20 million allocated by the California Department of Health Care Services to support 988 call center development across the state is a critical first step in this direction.  Alongside a massive expansion of crisis response teams to engage those in crisis and an increase in the number of available treatment beds to provide care for them, robust and well-coordinated call centers will help establish an entirely new level of functionality in our streets, neighborhoods and throughout our communities in general. Lives will be saved and justice reform advanced by this investment.

Heidi Strunk, President & CEO – Mental Health America of California:

We are grateful for all the bipartisan support and DHCS’s $20 million-dollar allocation to support the rollout of 988 in the summer of 2022. The $20 million-dollar allocation is an essential step in supporting a system that will save Californians’ lives.

Jessica Cruz, CEO of NAMI CA:

NAMI CA is extremely grateful that the state is making such a significant investment in our 988 crisis response system. A comprehensive crisis response system will prevent tragedies, save money, and increase access to appropriate care. This budget investment is a wonderful first step to ensuring that mental health crisis stabilization and urgent care centers, mobile outreach teams, and crisis residential services are accessible in every community of our state.

Taun Hall, Founder of the Miles Hall Foundation:

If a 988 system had existed in 2019, and mental health professionals had responded to my son Miles when he was in crisis instead of the police, there’s a good chance he would still be alive today. It is my mission to make sure no other family has to suffer this type of loss. This $20 million dollar investment to fund 988 is a vital first step to protect others like Miles within California and ensure a compassionate response to those in a mental health crisis.

Gigi Crowder, Executive Director of NAMI of Contra Costa County:

We have lost too many of our friends, family members, and neighbors experiencing a mental health emergency to suicide or at the hands of the police. We are heartened to see the state recognize the enormous need to ensure universal and equitable access to mental health crisis care.

What’s next? 

Working with our partners, the Steinberg Institute and The Kennedy Forum will push for sustained funding and will work hard to develop a framework that ensures people in crisis receive the response they need during the most vulnerable time in their lives. As long-standing members of  a national coalition of leading mental health advocates, we know what works and are committed to ensuring that people in California have access to an integrated and effective crisis response system. 

“The bipartisan support for launching 988 with necessary funding is a foundation for our efforts to build a comprehensive crisis response system,” said Tara Gamboa-Eastman, Steinberg Institute Legislative Advocate. “While AB 988 did not move forward this year, the Steinberg Institute and The Kennedy Forum will be back in January, working with our partners to ensure that California takes the next step in implementing the 988 system.”

“This investment means California takes an important step toward the development of a nationwide mental health crisis response system,” said Lauren Finke, California Policy Fellow at the Kennedy Forum. “Our current system fails far too many people. We must work together to build a continuum of crisis care that includes counseling, mobile crisis stabilization services, and mobile crisis teams staffed by trained mental health professionals – not law enforcement.”