By Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly signed a bill hailed by Republicans and Democrats to provide funding and regulation for a statewide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week suicide prevention hotline scheduled to be operational in mid-July.
The legislation inaugurating a hotline with the number 988 — functioning in the manner of 911 — was overwhelmingly approved in a bipartisan vote by the 2022 Legislature. The bill required preparations for the hotline to be completed in time for a July 16 launch.
Under Senate Bill 19, the state would operate crisis intervention teams with capacity to provide direct assistance to individuals in crisis. Mobile response teams would bring together behavioral health professionals trained in de-escalation and stabilization.
“There’s no doubt, having mobile crisis teams just a phone call away will save lives,” Kelly said.
The operation would be supported with $10 million in annual appropriations from the state. Oversight would be provided by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services and the appointed members of a new 988 council. The Kansas operation would be part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Centers network.
Ryan Reza, of the Kansas affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the hotline would enable crisis centers in Kansas to better respond to mental health emergencies.
“The 988 suicide prevention hotline will change how organizations like NAMI Kansas operate in Kansas, creating new pathways for mental health stakeholders to help Kansans in need,” Reza said.
The bill was adopted on votes of 112-6 in the House and 25-2 in the Senate.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said the hotline would prove to be an effective tool for struggling Kansans. The program is one element of an ongoing effort to make the state’s mental health system among the best in the country, she said.
“SB 19 is just the beginning,” said Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City. “The Kansas Legislature has been looking at the issue of mental health services in depth with the mental health modernization task force and 988 not only helps to provide timely support and access but it frees 911 to do quick emergency work.”