New Initiative to Define Policy Recommendations for Embedding Equity into 988

Atlanta, GA – May 11, 2022 – Today, the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity (KSCMHE), an entity of the Satcher Health Leadership at Morehouse School of Medicine, announces a new initiative in partnership with Beacon Health Options (Beacon): Embedding Equity into 988: Imagining a New Normal for Crisis Response. This research and policy initiative will imagine equitable crisis response for the future of behavioral health service delivery ahead of the July 2022 launch of 988, a national crisis line that will serve as a “911” for psychiatric emergencies.

“I have been witness to a 911 call going badly for someone in crisis. It is the type of mental image that stays with you forever in this line of work,” said KSCMHE Director and practicing clinician, Madhuri Jha, LSCW, MPH, who is also spearheading this initiative. “Our current psychiatric emergency response system fails to adequately meet the needs of our most vulnerable. For Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and other historically marginalized communities, 988 is an opportunity to ensure our system is saving and treating lives the way all humans deserve to be treated. From an evidence-based perspective, we will thoughtfully craft concrete and culturally responsive recommendations and evaluation measures to ensure that this significant moment in history advances equity the way it truly has the potential to do,” emphasized Jha.

Embedding Equity into 988 will conduct a rapid academic review and survey assessment to inform a policy brief that will outline a series of detailed recommendations for effective and equitable administration of 988. This policy brief will be complemented with a virtual half-day leadership summit on June 21, 2022, where leaders in behavioral healthcare will discuss the equitable roll-out of 988 with the objective of defining strategies to address the unmet needs in crisis response, especially for historically marginalized people.

Dr. David Satcher, former 16th U.S. Surgeon General and founder of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute shared, “Over the years, I have seen people of color dismissed and not get the care they need or deserved. Our crisis and emergency response system simply does not know how to respond to diverse needs or are just negligent at times. This partnership and concentrated effort to make 988 equitable is bringing to light what is needed to respond and support the needs of all in a way that works. The goal for embedding equitable response structures into 988 is to truly provide our community members with the support they need versus doing more harm. This initiative and partnership aims to do just that.”

“Actualizing equitable mental health service delivery is long overdue in our nation,” stated former U.S. Rep. and co-founder of the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity, Patrick J. Kennedy. “Although having a dedicated crisis line for mental health emergencies is a major step in the right direction, ensuring we can provide the appropriate services to everyone, as part of its roll out, will be critical to its long-term success. I am grateful to Beacon Health Options for partnering with us to shine a spotlight on this issue.”

“This collaboration and initiative is a monumental opportunity for the advancement towards equitable healthcare for our nation. Structural barriers to equitable healthcare and the resulting inequities from these barriers, while daunting, are not permanent,” said, Satcher Health Leadership Institute’s Executive Director, Daniel Dawes, J.D. “The work we are doing now to embed equity into the upcoming 988 crisis line is a leap towards dissolving these politically[1]determined barriers and the start to a more permanent, equitable, and holistic healthcare system. I am thrilled at the opportunity for the Satcher Health Leadership Institute and Beacon Health Options to join forces in this important work.”

As the nation moves closer to the national launch of 988, Beacon has been working closely with states to elevate the level of care they are able to provide through responsive crisis programs. Beacon’s team of experts include individuals with clinical and lived experience to support people in crisis in communities across the country, working collaboratively to identify and address public health needs and build capacity of local resources. Together, they support people throughout their crisis journey and improve health equity for historically marginalized and underserved communities.

“Beacon will continue to deliver capabilities that will help address gaps in services and resources in our communities,” said Glenn MacFarlane, President, Beacon Health Options. “We look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with KSCMHE on this initiative to ensure we are helping communities build better crisis systems based on a foundation of equity and capable of responding to the unique needs and experiences of each individual.”

About Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity

The Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity (KSCMHE), an entity of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine, was jointly envisioned by the 16th U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher, and former U.S. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI). Building on their longstanding relationship and shared commitment to promoting mental health parity and health equity for people living with mental health and substance use disorders, the Center was made possible through a generous endowment from the Kennedy Forum, and matched by MSM’s endowment from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

About Morehouse School of Medicine

Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), located in Atlanta, Ga., exists to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities, increase the diversity of the health professional and scientific workforce and address primary health care through programs in education, research, and service, with emphasis on people of color and the underserved urban and rural populations in Georgia, the nation, and the world. MSM is among the nation’s leading educators of primary care physicians and has twice been recognized as the top institution among U.S. medical schools for its dedication to the social mission of education. The faculty and alumni are noted in their fields for excellence in teaching, research, and public policy, and are known in the community for exceptional, culturally appropriate patient care. Morehouse School of Medicine is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award doctorate and master’s degrees.

About Beacon Health Options

Beacon Health Options is a leading behavioral health services company serving one out of six people across all 50 states. We work with employers, health plans and government agencies to support mental health and emotional wellbeing, crisis and foster care, substance use disorder recovery, and employee health programs that improve the health and wellness of people every day. Our multi-modal, insights driven approach allows us to integrate social, behavioral and physical health solutions to drive improved outcomes for everyone we serve. By collaborating with a network of providers in communities around the country, we help individuals live their lives to the fullest potential.

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