PRINCETON — A bill before the Legislature that would help fund a statewide suicide crisis hotline is currently sitting on the Senate Finance Committee, supporters of the Senate said on Tuesday. the legislation.
Senate Bill 181 would help fund a statewide suicide prevention center using the new national 988 hotline, according to Greg Puckett, executive director of Community Connections, Inc. in Mercer County. It will replace the 1-800-273-TALK line, which is the national suicide hotline. People calling in West Virginia would be connected to a call center in West Virginia.
Senate Bill 181 was introduced with bipartisan support to ensure these calls continue to be answered promptly by the West Virginia call center, Puckett said. The bill is currently in the Senate Finance Committee.
Lata Menon, CEO of First Choice Services, a nonprofit agency that also operates a gamblers hotline and a quit smoking hotline, said Bill is currently stuck on a proposed monthly fee of 11 cents. on mobile phones that would help fund the suicide prevention center.
“We were hoping the 11 cents would be considered a reasonable amount, especially in the context of saving lives,” Menon said.
The Senate could choose to pass Senate Bill 181 at no cost, but with the state’s commitment to fund the program, she said.
“At the end of the day, we just want to be able to respond quickly to calls so we can help those in need, and that will require additional funds to do that,” Menon said.
Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline of West Virginia are steadily increasing. Between 2018 and 2021, call volume in the state increased by 63%. New changes will increase calls even further, Menon said.
In July, the new national phone number, 988, will be rolled out nationwide to facilitate quick access to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Menon said. The reach of the line will further be marketed not only as a number for people in a suicidal crisis, but also for anyone in distress or in a mental health crisis. The easily remembered number, wider reach of the line, accessibility via chat and text, and a national marketing campaign are factors that will increase Lifeline’s contact volume nationwide. Vibrant Emotional Health, the administrator of the national hotline, estimates that the number of West Virginians seeking Lifeline’s help could exceed 30,000 a year, three times the current volume.
Menon said she was concerned that without the additional funding, her staff would not be able to respond to incoming calls. Callers can be transferred to an out-of-state answering service, a process that takes more than five minutes. She said the long waits can be a deterrent because many won’t hold the line that long.
Menon also said she was concerned that out-of-state agencies were unaware of the resources available in West Virginia.
“Senate Bill 181 gives us the tools we need to quickly connect with West Virginians in crisis and provide immediate relief,” she said.
Anyone feeling depressed, suicidal or in need of emotional support can reach the National Suicide Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK.
Senator Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he was in favor of the bill. Senate Bill 181 had not been introduced to the Finance Committee on Tuesday, but the committee still has several meetings. The Legislative Assembly is now at a point where Members are “in a scramble” to pass as many bills as possible.
“I know it’s time to push it through,” Swope said, adding that when he gets the chance, he plans to speak about the bill with Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnum, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
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