Jul 18, 2022 - News

Massachusetts' 988 funding, oversight still in flux

States that have enacted legislation to implement and fund the 988 hotline
Massachusetts lawmakers are negotiating 988 provisions as part of a broader behavioral health package. Data: National Academy for State Health Policy; Map: Nicki Camberg/Axios

In the months leading up to the rollout of the 988 hotline, legislators, advocates and others asked whether the call centers could withstand the demand for mental health assistance.

What's happening: Kathy Marchi, CEO of Samaritans in Boston, says that so far, they can.

  • They had no problems, and found the volume manageable on Saturday when 988 went live, Marchi told Axios on Sunday.

Yes, but: No one can predict what the volume will look like weeks or months from now, and call centers like Samaritans run rely entirely on volunteers.

  • When asked what would help, Marchi simply says: more volunteers and more funding.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the Massachusetts legislature are negotiating bills that, among other things, would codify the 988 system into law and create a commission to set funding and legislative recommendations.

  • Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has a separate 24-7 helpline in the works staffed by clinicians, who would help callers set routine appointments, urgent visits or crisis interventions with a local provider. It's supposed to go live in January.
  • Lawmakers implemented and funded the this helpline in the compromise 2023 budget bill filed Sunday night, which sets aside $20 million for a behavioral health access trust fund.
  • But neither the pair of behavioral health bills nor the budget proposal addresses how the public should use the different numbers.

What they're saying: "The Help Line will be an additional resource when individuals call 988 for support, should they need it. There will be no wrong door to care," Kayla Rosario Munoz, spokesperson for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, told Axios in a statement.

What's next: The House and Senate have until July 31, when the legislative session ends, to finalize a compromise on their behavioral health care bills.

The bottom line: "It's going to take all of us to spread the word about 988," Rep. Adrian Madaro (D-East Boston), tells Axios.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

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