BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (WIVT/WBGH) – Congressman Marc Molinaro is supporting New York state’s mental health crisis by advocating for life saving technology.
On Monday, Molinaro urged the Federal Communications Commission to implement a system that reroutes calls made to the National 988 Crisis Lifeline to local call centers.
Similar to 911, 988 is a helpline focused on assisting those in crisis, specifically with mental health concerns and suicidal ideation. However, unlike 911 calls, which are routed to a local call center based on the caller’s current location, 988 calls are routed based on a person’s area code. The current system makes the service not as effect due to many factors such as if the person answering a call is unfamiliar with the caller’s location or if the caller moves or travels. Those calling 988 have the potential for their call to be sent to a call center hundreds of miles away from their current location meaning they cannot receive accurate, local resources.
“When someone experiencing a crisis calls the 988 mental health hotline, they should be able to talk to someone that’s familiar with their community and who can direct them to local resources. If a Binghamton resident calls 988, a Southern Tier call center will always be better situated to provide support than say a call center in Alabama. That’s why I’m pushing the FCC to implement new technology so 988 calls are sent directly to local call centers. If implemented, this effort can save lives,” said Molinaro.
In a letter to Jessica Rosenworcel, Chairwoman of the FCC, Molinaro advocated for the immediate implement of geo-routing technology so someone who calls 988 will be routed to a local call center.
The full text of the letter can be found below:
Dear Chairwoman Rosenworcel:
The past several years have marked incredible developments in addressing our nation’s suicide and mental health crisis. As you know, since the first national number was established in 2005 (800-272-8255 TALK) millions of Americans have been able to find the help they need. Over time and through continued use of this lifeline, the federal government and advocates recognized that a three-digit number would be easier to remember and more likely to be used in times of crisis.
In December 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC/Commission) approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to designate 9-8-8 as the three-digit number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. The FCC prompted telecom providers to ensure every landline, cell phone, and every voice-over internet device across the country was capable of using 9-8-8. On October 17, 2020, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 was signed into law, codifying 9-8-8 into statute as the new Lifeline phone number.
Since the hotline’s new number launched in July 2022, millions of Americans have dialed 9-8-8 to access mental health and substance crisis services, reducing the stigma surrounding seeking help. Yet, there is still a great deal of work to ensure callers can rely on 988 to connect them to a comprehensive in-person crisis system and the proper resources in their areas.
Most people think that by calling 9-8-8, like 9-1-1, they will be routed to a local call center based on the proximity to where they are located. Unfortunately, 9-8-8 routes the caller to a call center based on the area code of their phone number. This can make it difficult for callers to be connected to a local call center that is familiar with and can connect them with community resources.
Your agency has been examining the feasibility of using geo-routing in 9-8-8 calls for some time. Recently, the FCC announced a proof-of-concept trial with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the 988 Lifeline administrator, Vibrant Emotional Health, that included industry partners.
As noted in your September 28th press release, I applaud the steps you have taken to identify a solution to this issue. However, Congress has not yet received information on how successful the routing of the trial calls were at a non-proprietary level by the industry provider – information that is essential for the public as we move forward on this issue.
I want you to ensure that the wireless carriers take the necessary steps to develop a geo-routing solution in line with the successful trial. The interim geo-routing solution will save lives and improve the experience for those in crisis. If the wireless carriers do not act expeditiously, the FCC must act under its regulatory authority to mandate compliance. As the Commission has stated in its letter to the industry, “This is a surmountable technical challenge, and we hope you will . . . work toward geo-routing implementation…”
Additionally, I ask the FCC to work with Congress and relevant stakeholders and brief us on the agency’s plan for geo-routing and geolocation and make available information on what was learned from the testing previously conducted.
Thank you for your consideration. I appreciate your leadership and the FCC’s action on this important issue
If you or someone you know is struggling, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached 24 hours a day by calling or texting 988, or by visiting 988lifeline.org.