‘Crown Jewel’ Bill Seeking To Build Mental Health Crisis Centers Passes Utah House

Feb 21, 2020, 6:54 PM | Updated: Feb 24, 2020, 10:20 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, is calling House bill 32, which just passed the House unanimously, the “crown jewel” of mental health bills this session.

The bill would provide crisis receiving centers for people in distress. One Utah man said a solution like this could have made a difference for him when he was in crisis a couple of months ago.

Charlie Ellis has battled bipolar disorder for more than 15 years. Last December, he found himself in the middle of a mental health crisis. A friend of his called law enforcement for help.

“All of a sudden, approximately 10 police cars pulled up, [and] lit up the parking lot like daylight,” Ellis described.

Charlie Ellis found himself in a mental health crisis last December. Instead of receiving the help he needed, he found himself in a situation that made him feel even more frustrated.

Ellis said he was ordered out of the car with guns and tasers pointed at him. He said he was told, “that if I didn’t comply, I would be tasered or shot.”

Ellis said he was handcuffed, given a “pink sheet,” and taken to the hospital. He said it only took medical professionals 30 minutes to recognize that he wasn’t a harm to himself. But, he left the hospital at three in the morning with a $4,500 bill to cover ambulance and medical expenses.

For Ellis, it was the last thing he needed.

“Besides being depressed, I was angry and frustrated,” he described. That’s why Eliason is calling H.B. 32, “Charlie’s Bill.” It’s formally titled the “Crisis Services Amendments” and seeks to fund 24-hour crisis receiving centers for people facing a mental health crisis. He said it would provide service to 85% of the state’s population.

“These would be 24/7, 365 [day] facilities, [with] no appointment necessary,” Eliason explained. Just like an emergency room, receiving centers couldn’t refuse service to anyone.

Eliason said they are an attractive alternative to an emergency room, which often aim to only stabilize an individual to make room for the next patient.

Rep. Steve Eliason is calling H.B. 32 the “crown jewel” of mental health legislation this session.

“So there’s not all the beeping machines and people being wheeled by on stretchers,” he added. “It’s so much better than emergency room setting where they may be hurried, they have other trauma patients that may require more attention.”

Instead, crisis receiving centers would feel more “homey,” complete with recliners, TVs, therapists, clinicians and physicians.

Eliason said they’d be staffed with mental health professionals.

“So they’re not just waiting and being sent to an appointment a few weeks out, where they [might] get the in-depth help they need. It’s right there,” he said.

Ellis felt like the assessment he received at the hospital only addressed his current mental state, rather than offering a long-term solution. But at a receiving center, he hopes the process would look a little bit different.

“Okay, what do we need to do to help you to further your treatment and help you deal with this on a regular basis so that you don’t run into these crisis situations?” he suggested.

Eliason continues to refer to H.B. 32 as the crown jewel of mental health legislation on the floor this session.

“It has the potential to be the most transformational mental health bill that we’ve ever dealt with here at the legislature,” he said.

The bill would also fund additional Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams for rural Utah, which Eliason compares to traditional ambulances without flashing lights and sirens that often cause unnecessary and unwanted attention for someone in distress.

Additionally, the bill would fund a state “warm line,” as opposed to the suicide prevention hotline. He said it’s “a number somebody can call who’s not quite in crisis, but needs somebody to talk to.”

H.B. 32 would also create a “warm line” for people who aren’t necessarily in a crisis but could still benefit from talking to someone.

Ellis believes these resources could have made a difference for him when he was seeking help in December.

“I could have used it and it would have been a better outcome for me,” he said. “I would hope that the future is brighter for the people out there of Utah.”

Eliason will now take the bill to the Senate for consideration. H.B. 35 also just passed the House unanimously Friday. If passed by the Senate and the budget committee, it would fund 30 additional beds at the Utah State Hospital.

Suicide Prevention Resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Additional Crisis Hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226-4433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
  • University Of Utah Crisis Interventional Crisis Line: 801-587-300

Online Resources

In An Emergency

  • Call the police
  • Go to the emergency room
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‘Crown Jewel’ Bill Seeking To Build Mental Health Crisis Centers Passes Utah House