Work has begun on improving statewide behavioral health crisis services

Department news | September 30, 2021

The Behavioral Health Institute (BHI) at Harborview Medical Center is facilitating a stakeholder process to support the effort to build an improved behavioral health crisis response system for Washington State that will provide a new 9-8-8 crisis response phone line, improved coordination of mobile crisis responders, and better access to crisis clinics. The goal is to create a system that will decrease deaths from suicide and reduce reliance on emergency room services and the use of law enforcement response to behavioral health crises, and to stabilize individuals in the community whenever possible.

Improved access to behavioral health crisis services is sorely needed. Nearly 6,000 Washington adults and children died by suicide in the last five years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reflecting a state increase of 36 percent in the last 10 years. Veterans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, LGBTQ youth, older adults, and people living in rural counties across the state experience higher suicide rates higher than the general population.

The Crisis Response System Improvement Strategy (CRIS) Committee, legislated by Washington State, includes stakeholders across government, community behavioral health providers and persons with lived experience of behavioral health crises. Mark Snowden, MD, MPH, and Allie Franklin, LICSW, from Harborview’s BHI are working with Betsy Jones from Health Management Associates (HMA) to facilitate the work of the CRIS Committee. The Committee will analyze the current crisis response system and make recommendations to implement the 9-8-8 crisis hotline in Washington specifically, and statewide improvements of behavioral health crisis response services in general. Earlier this year, the Ballmer Group gave nearly $3 million over two years to the BHI to support this effort as part of its $38M set of gifts to address behavioral health needs in Washington.