Thursday, July 25, 2024

Report: Virginia Needs Help Maintaining 988 Staffing Levels

Virginia is one of 10 states with legislation to sustain 988 funding through phone fees. (Adobe Stock)

WASHINGTON — A new report found Virginia’s mental health crisis response can improve.

The “A Better Response” report from the mental health advocacy organization Inseparable reviewed how states can bolster their 988 crisis response services. Virginia has an 87% response rate for 988 calls just under the 90% national standard.

Bruce Cruser, executive director of the nonprofit Mental Health Virginia, thinks the state has done well so far with financing but more work needs to be done to get the state where it needs to be.

“Ultimately, the staffing has to be priority because without proper training and enough help then people will burn out, get frustrated, and then leave,” Cruser pointed out. “Because again, there’s such a shortage of mental health professionals.”

The federal Health Resources and Services Administration put all of Virginia under a mental health professional shortage. Cruser noted there is no easy solution. He thinks funding can be allocated in the next budget for a multipronged approach to build up Virginia’s mental health workforce and remove barriers to people who want to practice in the state. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

Inesperable’s report showed a host of improvements to national systems can ensure states have the best crisis response systems. Virginia has already taken one step by establishing sustainable financing for 988 and crisis response services.

Angela Kimball, chief advocacy officer for Inseparable, said states need to have appropriate accountability measures.

“By having these accountability pieces, this allows legislators to oversee the system over the long haul,” Kimball pointed out. “And to set up the structures for continuous learning, continuous system improvement.”

She added data collection, annual legislative reporting and system coordination are three ways to ensure the system’s high standards. Kimball added system coordination between 988 and 911 is key to reducing reliance on first responders for mental health emergencies.

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