LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers took a step Tuesday toward making 988 the number to call for people feeling suicidal or struggling with mental health crises.
Legislative Bill 247 would create a new state task force, charged with planning for implementation of the three-digit hotline number. The bill cleared the first of three rounds of consideration on a 41-0 vote.
State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, who introduced the measure, said a 2020 federal law designated 988 as the national number to access mental health support during a crisis. The number is slated to launch in July 2022 and will replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
She said the task force will look at how to integrate local mental health crisis hotlines with the new national number, so that anyone who calls will be connected with a qualified mental health professional, regardless of the date, the time or how many other people are calling.
“I’m very excited for the potential of this bill to help Nebraskans across this state,” she said.
Other senators warned that Nebraskans will eventually have to pay for participating in the 988 system. Pansing Brooks said the federal law authorized states to charge fees on wireless devices, similar to the fees charged to support the 911 system. The task force will look at that option and other ways to pay for the system.
She said the task force will complement planning being done within the Department of Health and Human Services. The department got a grant in February from Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit administrator of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The money is to help state officials and other interested parties review the coordination, capacity, funding and communications needs surrounding the launch of 988. It also will help with creating a strategic plan to address infrastructure needs and ensure access to care.
“Access to mental health and crisis support has never been more critical for Americans,” Kimberly Williams, president and chief executive officer of Vibrant Emotional Health, said when the grant was announced. “By working together, we will increase access to care, reduce the stigma around mental health and, ultimately, save lives.”