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Bill Expanding Alternative Mental Health Crisis Intervention System Passes Utah Legislature

Photo of Utah Senate floor from above.
Austen Diamond for KUER
The Utah Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday to expand a different type of response systems for mental health crises to include mental health hotlines, mobile outreach teams and mental health receiving centers.

Often when someone seeks help for a mental health crisis, they’re taken in an ambulance to an emergency room. Mental health advocates, like Ginger Phillips, said that experience can be traumatic and make the crisis worse. 

Philips said she has schizoaffective disorder, and most of the times she has gone to an emergency room, she’s been left on a gurney in the hallway for hours next to a law enforcement officer. 

“You're sitting in the hallway, hearing voices, seeing things, totally paranoid about the cameras that they have up in the corner thinking they're specifically watching you,” Phillips said. “They've got you on a gurney for hours before they decide either we're going to let you go home, somebody come pick you up or are we going to admit you and it’s not fair.”

The Utah Legislature unanimously passed a bill Tuesday to expand a different type of response system that aims to avoid situations like that. It includes mental health hotlines, mobile outreach teams and mental health receiving centers

“I am very excited,” Phillips said, that the legislature “thought that community based services … [are] just as important or more than having a bunch of psych units.”

The state legislature has set aside more than $16 million in its draft budget to fund the bill. 

“For the past six years, making sure that mental health services are available to people in crisis [has] been the primary focus of my service,” said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, the bill’s floor sponsor. “This is probably the most important bill for mental health that we will pass this year.”

Thatcher added that the bill requires funding for three mobile outreach teams in rural counties.

Utah had the fifth highest suicide rate in the country in 2017, and an average of 627 Utahns die from suicide every year, according to the state department of health

The House has already passed the bill, but needs to vote on it again after the Senate made some technical changes. 

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow them on Twitter @SonjaHutson

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