New Utah law expands resources for mental health emergencies

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For people like Charles Ellis, who struggle with Bipolar II disorder, a new law will increase the outreach and improve staff qualifications when there is a mental health emergency.

(Decker Westenburg)

Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 32, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy on March 30. Under the law, the Behavioral Health Crisis Response Commission will receive grants to provide better assistance. Also, this bill will create a state plan that will waive some mental health services for those using Medicaid. 

Charles Ellis, a Utah resident struggling with Bipolar II, told one of his episodes during a legislative committee meeting.

“I was in crisis. And I was out driving just kind of doing and I was talking to somebody on the phone, the person was worried and called the hotline. The next thing I knew, approximately 10 police cars pulled up,” Ellis said.

Ellis was ordered to get out of his car by the officers, while they were pointing at him with guns and tasers. Then he was handcuffed and taken to a health care location.

“I was forced to get into an ambulance and taken into a local health care facility,” Ellis said.

The physicians assisted Ellis and came to the conclusion that Ellis was not in danger. But, later Ellis was charged for the unneeded treatment. 

“My insurance and I have received bills for approximately $45,000 for less than a three hour thing, which was totally unnecessary,” Ellis said.

To help people such as Ellis, the new law appropriates money for a behavioral health receiving center program from the branch of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. Also, the law will implement a statewide “warm line” for people to reach professionals who can help them during a mental health crisis episode. Besides this law will provide constant implementations to this service.

“I actually believe it is the most important mental health billing for us,” Eliason said. “It seeks to continue to transform our behavioral health crisis response system, and could really catapult us to the best of the nation.”

Eliason said: “I heard a psychiatrist speak a few weeks ago in Sundance in a panel on mental health and said, ‘why do we wait until somebody has a stage in the behavioral health toward the proverbial stage for cancer?’”

“Before we start to treat them, especially when 50% of mental illnesses manifest themselves before the age of 14 and 75,” he said. 

Currently, the Crisis Line Commission has been working with the mobile crisis outreach in remote areas of the state such as St. George and other locations at the Wasatch Front.

According to Kim Myers, from the Division of Abuse and Mental Health of the Department of Human Services, “it would allow us to do a total of about 15,000 annual outreaches by those mobile crisis outreach teams.”

According to Myers, the Department of Human Services will divert 90% of those cases in their home, without a need to go to a healthcare facility.

“Meaning over 13,000 people will be able to get the support they need in their communities and not having to go to higher levels of care,” Myers said.

“We [are] freeing up emergency departments to respond to medical crises, [and] freeing up law enforcement to do public safety work,” Myers said.

Tom Ross, Chief of Police at the Bountiful Police Department said: “I have to tell you that this is the most exciting program that I have been involved in for the past five years.”

“This program touches every aspect of those issues in a way that actually puts law enforcement in a position to be viewed as someone there to help,” Ross said.

Since the creation of these programs to provide support when the mental health crisis comes, the suicide rate has been decreasing.

Kelly Atkinson, Executive Director at the Utah Health Insurance Association said: “The suicide rate is actually slightly gone down in the state of Utah,”

“[Rep. Eliason] properly represented how we feel about this legislation. We think it’s innovative, we think it’s creative, we think it has the potential of driving down costs for consumers in the state of Utah,” Atkinson said.

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