Beacon and Kennedy-Satcher: advancing behavioral health equity

Coming in July, the first nationwide crisis hotline for behavioral health emergencies will go live. The equivalent of 911 for mental health, 988 marks a historic milestone in improving access to life-saving crisis services. While 988 represents a crucial step forward to address the current mental health crisis in the United States, much work remains to ensure that the crisis response system is equitable – particularly for communities that have historically experienced great inequity and trauma.

Data indicates that people who identify as LGBTQIA+; black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC); rural communities; immigrants, refugees, and non-English speaking people; people living with disabilities; older adults; people experiencing homelessness or housing instability; formerly incarcerated or justice-involved populations; survivors of trauma; and neurodiverse people hesitate to call 911 in times of need because they fear the response will result in more harm than good.1 The advent of 988 presents an opportunity to change that.

Beacon Health Options2 has partnered with the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity (KSCMHE) to address this important issue ahead of the 988 launch in July. Our partnership centers on two main components: (1) a research and policy initiative that imagines equitable crisis response for the future of behavioral health service delivery, and (2) a leadership summit to explore how to embed equity into crisis response.

Our policy brief Embedding Equity into 988: Imagining a New Normal for Crisis Response, describes how various communities encounter mental health services, including crisis care. Among the many findings, our research found that:

  • Communities of color have lower rates of retention in treatment.
  • Stigma and cultural beliefs about mental wellness are barriers to access for many populations.
  • Communities of color have historically been misdiagnosed, as exhibited by rates of diagnosis of ADHD and schizophrenia.

With 988 set to launch in a few short weeks, it is more important than ever to understand how to create a more equitable service landscape. Some recommendations for embedding behavioral health equity into state and local 988 systems include:

  • Prioritizing visibility of groups that are historically excluded or inadequately reached by psychiatric emergency systems.
  • Deploying law enforcement in psychiatric emergency response only as needed.
  • Leveraging mobile crisis units staffed by culturally competent staff.

The advent of 988 marks an exciting time for behavioral health and provides an opportunity to make life better and more equitable for all. "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."

Beacon Health Options is at the forefront of the nationwide crisis system, working closely with states to evaluate existing infrastructure, leverage existing resources, provide guidance on how to fill gaps in service, and braid funding to get it all paid for. To learn more, visit our crisis solutions page.

1 Sasson, C., Haukoos, J. S., Ben-Youssef, L., Ramirez, L., Bull, S., Eigel, B., Magid, D. J., & Padilla, R.: Barriers to calling 911 and learning and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation for residents of primarily Latino, high-risk neighborhoods in Denver, Colorado. Annals of Emergency Medicine (2015):

2 Today, we are Carelon Behavioral Health, but when we sponsored the event referenced above, we were Beacon Health Options.