LA Blade: Padilla, FCC introduce bill to improve 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

By Christopher Kane

U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), joined by U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, introduced a measure on Thursday to improve the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Calls are currently routed to mental health professionals and local public safety officials based on the caller’s area code — even though, as the lawmakers and officials noted during their announcement — in many cases, the area code, especially for cell phone numbers, does not match the location from which they are calling.

Under the new proposal, Padilla said, “We’re going to be in a position to be able to provide care as quickly and as safely as possible.”

“In the same way that 911 calls in the case of an emergency are routed to local providers, local first responders, so ambulances can come out and help quickly when you call 911, 988 should be tied to a caller’s location, not their area code,” he said.

Calling Padilla, Tillis, and Cárdenas “great champions of mental health,” Rosenworcel noted, “that’s not our stock and trade” at the FCC.

“We are people who deal with technology and communications,” she said, “but we came to realize that we could work with Congress to make sure that everyone in this country who’s going through a crisis has someone to call and someone who can listen — and that’s why in 2022, we set up 988, the easy-to-remember three digit number for anyone who is in crisis.”

A press release from Padilla’s office explains the details for how the update to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline will work:

“The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) announced today seeks to address the discrepancies and inefficiencies of the current system by proposing the adoption of a rule that would require a georouting solution to be implemented for all wireless calls to the 9-8-8 Lifeline while balancing the privacy needs of individuals in crisis.

Georouting refers to technical solutions that enable calls to be directed based on the location of the caller without transmitting the caller’s precise location information. These solutions would permit wireless calls to the 9-8-8 Lifeline to be directed to nearby crisis centers based on factors such as the cell tower that originated the call rather than the area code of the wireless device used to place the call.”

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers LGBTQ-affirming counseling, which is accessible by pressing three.

A 2023 survey by the Trevor Project, which included more than 28,000 LGBTQ participants aged 13-24, found that 41 percent had seriously considered suicide within the past year and 56 percent wanted — but were unable to get — mental health care within the last year.

Read the full article here.

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