According to MCES, he receives through the national hotline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) an average of 4,500 calls per year, in addition to direct calls to its 24/7 Montgomery County Crisis Line.
The agency is expected to start receiving 9-8-8 calls this summer, and Salvatore expects calls to his line to increase. To be able to manage them, he said the solution, again, is more funding and higher compensation for staff.
“What would be nice is if they fund places like us enough so that we can attract people and compensate them in a way that more people are willing to work,” Salvatore said.
Donna Duffy-Bell, administrator of Bucks County’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Programs, said plans to expand its community crisis response infrastructure are underway. She said the Family Service Association of Langhorne will receive 9-8-8 calls and connect people to mobile crisis services through the Lenape Valley Foundation and co-responder services that currently exist in Bensalem Townships. , Falls and Middletown and will soon expand to three more municipalities.
Questions remain regarding the relationship between 9-1-1 and 9-8-8 responders. More than a year after Walter Wallace Jr. was shot dead by Philadelphia police during a mental health crisis, community activists have demanded a new number and new people to call in similar situations.
“There will have to be technical pathways in place for two-way communication between 9-1-1 and 9-8-8,” Duffy-Bell said, but those plans are still “work in progress,” a- she added.
Asked about how police have historically and dangerously mishandled mental health crises, especially with people of color, Duffy-Bell said she was sure police would always respond in certain situations, “especially in depending on how 9-1-1 wants/needs to handle their calls. The goal, however, is not to get individuals to emergency services, but to respond with specific mental health resources.
In an interview with WHYY News about the Bucks County Co-responder Program, which pairs social workers with police, Nicholas Emeigh, Director of Outreach and Development for NAMI Bucks County, said in a perfect world, “the police would not be involved” in these types of calls.
“A mental health crisis deserves a mental health response,” Emeigh said, “people living with mental health issues deserve help, not handcuffs. And that’s the truth.
Grasso remains hopeful that Pennsylvania will build the appropriate infrastructure. She also thinks having the three-digit number accessible will help normalize and destigmatize the prioritization of mental health.
Having this number says, “Your mental health is as important as your physical health, and now we’re going to give you the trained professionals, just like we give you the paramedics and firefighters,” Grasso said.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The hotline is staffed 24/7 by qualified counselors who can offer free and confidential assistance. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call 1-800-799-4889. Help is also available via the Crisis text line by texting “HOME” to 741-741.