HB41: “Hannah’s bill” would ensure Utah suicide prevention hotlines available 24/7

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The Recovery Outreach Center in Provo receives crisis calls as well as provides preventative and follow-up care. (Ty Mullen)

Hannah Warburton, a 16-year-old from Huntsville, Utah, was in her darkest moment. She dialed the local suicide prevention number to try and receive the help she needed, but her call went through to voicemail. This solidified her decision, and she left this life.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, told Hannah’s heart-wrenching on the House floor on Friday, Jan. 26, with the permission of her mother, Laura Warburton.

“Hannah, in a moment of crisis, called a help line,” Eliason said. “She received no answer. The call was disconnected, and Hannah then exited this life.”

HB41, nicknamed “Hannah’s bill,” is designed to strengthen Utah’s crisis response system by ensuring the 20 mental health crisis lines across the state will be either fully staffed and available any time or have rollover capabilities so calls can be redirected to the state line, 1-800-273-TALK, which is always available.

All centers are staffed by licensed, clinical social workers with special training in crisis intervention. Eliason said last year there were just under 700 deaths by suicide in Utah.

“Can you imagine if you called 911 and received voicemail? Or a busy signal? Or routed through a phone tree? It would not be acceptable,” Eliason said.

While the legislature believes the bill will have great impact, local crisis lines have different ideas of just what that impact will be.

Wasatch Mental Health Recovery Outreach Center in Provo, or the ROC, is staffed full time with workers trained in crisis prevention as well as post-crisis treatment and intervention. The center is designed with closed off offices and “warm rooms”— places where people can feel safe and receive the help they need.

According to Kip Landon, program manager for crisis services at the ROC, these workers disagree with some aspects of HB41.

Kip Landon sits in a warm room to describe how they provide a safe space for patients. (Ty Mullen)

Landon, who graduated from BYU with a master’s degree in social work, said they worry calls funneled into one place will take away their opportunity to intervene as effectively as they currently have the freedom to.

Many people they help are either walk-ins or drop-offs, because they feel the center is a safe place and because they know the workers, according to Landon.

“They’ll always be able to come in,” Landon said. “But if it’s standardized and they have to go through a call center first, that takes away our ability to really intervene at a local level where it’s actually powerful.”

The ROC is staffed during regular business hours with five master-level clinicians, and after hours, they have someone on-call at all times. The crisis line itself is about 25 percent of their work, and the rest is preventative and follow-up care, according to Landon.

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Laura Oaks, one of the ROCs full-time clinicians, answers calls at work. (Ty Mullen)

“Crisis is our first and foremost priority,” Landon said, “But we don’t just sit around waiting for calls.”

work closely with local police and emergency rooms and are on a first name basis with the workers there. Landon said he believes there may be smaller rural communities that need help from the state crisis line, but he doesn’t feel it should be standardized so everyone operates the same way.

“I think the legislators’ hearts are in the right place, but you need to really ask the local communities what they need,” Landon said.

Back on the House floor, many representatives spoke out in favor of the bill. All of them had seen the tragic effects of suicide in their own lives.

Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Salt Lake, stood to tell the story of her personal struggle. She said she suffered for many years and had even contemplated suicide at one point. She said she wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t received the support she needed.

“Don’t judge, please,” Duckworth said. “Watch and listen to those you love and even those that reach out to you because they need you and we need them.”

Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, said he is good friends with Laura Warburton, and his son went out with Hannah just a few days before her death.

“I don’t want to lose another life to a busy signal,” Fawson said.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake, said he believes HB41 will be one of the most important bills discussed this session. He said he has had multiple experiences with a young man who reached out to him in times of crisis.

“You really don’t know fear and dread until you’re on the phone and a person you love, that you are responsible for, says, ‘I love you, goodbye,'” Briscoe said.

In his closing remarks, Eliason said HB41 has been endorsed by the Utah chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Utah PTA, the Utah Hospital Association, the Utah chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the state Suicide Prevention Coalition.

He also said Reagan Outdoor Advertising has agreed to donate several billboards across Utah to raise awareness for the statewide crisis line, 1-800-273-TALK.

Landon said if this bill is passed, he doesn’t think it will change the long-term care they’re able to provide at Wasatch Mental Health.

“After you take the crisis call, you actually have to do treatment and intervention for the person in crisis, it’s not just a one-time interview,” Landon said. “You do some interventions, you interact with this person and their family, and that takes some time.”

He said he hopes their day-to-day operation won’t be effected if the bill passes, but that he thinks it might not have quite the effect the legislators hope for.

When it came to the vote in the House, Hannah’s bill passed unanimously, without a single opposing vote. It was given a favorable recommendation in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and will go to the entire Senate next for consideration.

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