JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Three numbers that could save lives are now in operation.
The federal government launched the new 988 mental health 24/7 crisis hotline Saturday. It replaces the 10-digit suicide prevention hotline, connecting callers with mental health professionals.
It's a hotline for people with suicidal thoughts and other mental health emergencies. However, it's up to each state to figure out how to pay for it.
“This one number, the 988, you're going to need operators in each city, each town, each state to be able to answer that call, much like they do with the 911 operation center," Jennifer Silvey-Cason, Disaster Manager at UF Health Jacksonville, said.
Silvey-Cason said the hotline is just the beginning when it comes to mental health resources.
"I think it's going to be a nice boost for those counties and cities to put those plans in place or get those plans in place [for mental health resources]. I think this is probably one of the best ideas they've come up with,” she said.
When you dial 988, it will route you to one of about 200 crisis call centers throughout the country based on your area code.
"We all know the 911. We all know that that's 'Hey, that's an emergency. I need help now.' Well, this is that same thought process. The 988 is that same process," Silvey-Cason said.
On the First Coast, you'll most likely get routed to the United Way of Northeast Florida. It's the one call center in our area. According to a spokesperson with the United Way, they've operated a suicide prevention lifeline for the region, and a 24/7 information referral hotline, 211, for the past two decades.
“Nothing is changing from the infrastructure, how people access our services," Jeff Winkler, Head of Basic Needs for the United Way of Northeast Florida, said. "It's just hopefully going to be a much easier to use and remember phone number that we hope that people will remember when they're in crisis and where to turn to," Winkler said.
Florida has 13 call centers across the state. Georgia has one and it's in Atlanta. According to a spokesperson with the Florida Department of Children and Families, Governor Ron DeSantis included $247,311,170 in this year's budget for mental health and substance abuse resources. That includes $126 million to address service gaps and behavioral health services. Included in that is $15.5 million for an expansion of the mobile response teams that could respond to a 988 call.
The DCF spokesperson also said it's expanding existing teams and creating new teams in counties with an increased need due to Baker Acts.
According to Terrie Andrews, Vice President of Baptist and Wolfson Children's Behavioral Health department, $15 million is a great start, but they're going to need more money to sustain the system.
"Each county is pretty much going to need that amount to be able to truly support a great infrastructure," she said. "So that when these callers are deescalated, either by the crisis counselors or these mobile response teams, we have the appropriate resources and enough, they're called MRTS, enough MRTS throughout the counties to ensure that these are, you know, our community callers are getting the help that they need," Andrews said.
Andrews said Northeast Florida also needs more psychiatric inpatient beds. Right now, she said there's only a little more than 300 adult psychiatric beds and about 60 inpatient pediatric beds in the region.
According to Silvey-Cason, resources when it comes to response teams will depend on the region. The teams could include a nurse practitioner, mental health counselor and others.
“I think that's going to vary from maybe county to county, city to city, state to state on their resources. You know, here in Jacksonville and our surrounding counties, we are rich with resources," she said.
"And when that person on the call says some keywords that basically they have a plan or they've put a plan into motion that will notify they will notify our local folks," she said.
According to Winkler, they've been meeting with mental health providers and law enforcement officers across Northeast Florida for the past seven to eight months, creating a taskforce "to really look at how can we build an ideal state and system to ensure that these callers who are coming into 988 is the tip of the spear."
"We want to make sure that we're working closely with our peer specialists, with our mobile response team, with our crisis stabilization units to ensure that the callers who are coming into 988 are going to go directly to those experts in the field in our community who can provide those much more direct services," Winkler said.
Winkler said since 988's launch Saturday, they've seen a slight uptick in calls.
"We were wondering if we're going to see a major uptick, and it hasn't been that case yet. So, I think that this really, you know, is in line with a soft launch and what we anticipate we'll see a gradual increase in call volume," Winkler said.
Monday, they took 27 lifeline calls and 17 crisis calls, which is slightly higher than the average, Winkler said.
If United Way counselors are all on calls, the calls will be routed to national call centers. Winkler said they're bound to see a steadier stream of calls come into their center when they increase the staff to be able to take those calls.
Right now, they have 21 people working in the call center and 11 take calls. They're looking to add 10 more people to the team with the help of DCF.
He said they're also working on handing off calls to mobile response teams and to 911 if necessary. Most of the mobile response teams in Northeast Florida right now, Winkler said, are dedicated to juveniles up to 25-years-old.
"This really is a gradual development of a system that's going to allow us to address mental health very comprehensively, as opposed to maybe just working with the youth population," Winkler said.
Over the past year, Winkler said the call center took about 3,700 suicide and crisis calls.