Best of the West: 988 Lifeline Launches; Panasonic’s new $4 billion E.V. battery factory; A carbon capture milestone; the U.S. Track and Field wins nine medals in one day at the World Championships

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting July 18, 2022. (Photos courtesy of Unsplash and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute)

Suicide rates in the U.S. are the highest since World War II, and workforce shortages coupled with a lack of resources, especially in rural areas, have exacerbated the crisis. In response, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched the 988 Lifeline, a three-digit crisis number that individuals experiencing behavioral health crises can call or text for help. 

The 988 Lifeline came to fruition after the bipartisan National Suicide Hotline Designation Act passed in 2020, which allocated $105 million for crisis call centers. "988 is more than a number, it is a message: we're there for you," HHS Secretary, Xavier Becerra, said, who will give a keynote address at WGA's 2022 Annual Meeting in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on July 26-28.

The Federal Communications Commission required all telephone and text providers in states and major territories to activate 988 by July 16. 1-800-273-TALK, the previous National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, will still connect callers to help. Additionally, the new line offers an option to connect veterans with the Veterans Crisis Line. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Denis McDonough, will also provide a keynote speech at WGA's upcoming Annual Meeting.

Following the launch of 988, Wyoming expanded services to offer full-time, state-based coverageNew Mexico is increasing access to care in frontier, rural, and tribal communities by forming crisis teams and crisis receiving models to break down barriers to treatment. 

Having received 10,000 crisis calls annually, Montana is investing $400,000 to meet call center staffing demand. Kansas, which has a higher than average national suicide rate, will increase funding for the crisis line by $10 million. "Just as every American knows to call 911 in times of emergency, every American and every Kansan will soon know to call 988 when they or a loved one is facing a mental health or substance abuse crisis," Gov. Laura Kelly, said. To ensure consistent funding long into the future, Washington, which is one of 21 states that passed 988 legislation prior to the national launch, established a telecom tax to fund the line. Ahead of 988, California's Department of Health Care Services also set aside $20 million to prepare call centers for the launch. 

988, however, is not the only resource states are deploying to combat behavioral and mental health issues. California is investing $4.1 billion in 'community schools' that address mental health crises and drug use that's spiked throughout COVID-19. The schools meet students' needs through health care, mental health resources, tutoring, and childcare. Another county in California opened a 24/7 urgent care facility for walk-ins and created a text line that helps students apprehensive about seeking help. Kansas created the School Mental Health Advisory Council, which informs the state Board of Education how to address students' mental health with input from parents, providers, and legislators. Colorado is using Medicaid to fund school-based behavioral health services, including telehealth.

On the higher education side, the University of Texas Board of Regents approved a $16.5 million investment to improve behavioral health that funds the Thrive at UT mobile app, which helps students establish new routines to improve mental health. Clovis Community College in New Mexico received a $50,000 grant to support mental health presentations, increased services, and additional resources.

Learn more about efforts to address mental and behavioral health in the West by reading WGA policy resolution Physical and Behavioral Health Care in Western States or by listening to WGA's 'Out West' podcast episode, On the Mind: Youth Behavioral Health Care Access, which delves into strategies Washington and Wyoming have employed to help provide resources to youth amid workforce shortages.

E.V. Battery Factory: Panasonic announced that it will open a $4 billion electric vehicle battery factory in Kansas that will create 4,000 jobs. Gov. Laura Kelly and state legislators worked across the aisle to secure the deal that established the state's largest subsidy program ever to recruit business. "This project will be transformative for the Kansas economy, providing high-quality, high-tech jobs while bringing a new industry to the state that is forging a more sustainable future," said Gov. Kelly. "This is a significant milestone for Kansas that is sure to drive economic growth and development."

A Carbon Capture First: Red Trail Energy recently opened North Dakota's first carbon capture and storage project, which can capture and store up to 180,000 tons of carbon each year. "By capturing and storing the carbon from ethanol production, Red Trail Energy is helping to pave the way for the long-term viability of current energy sources in North Dakota with innovation and environmental stewardship," Gov. Doug Burgum said. Read about Western Governors' support for a diversified energy economy in WGA policy resolution, Energy in the West.

Rare Squid Alert: Scientists with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California captured ultra-rare footage of a mother Bathyteuthis squid carrying eggs. There are only 12 recorded sightings of the squid, and this is only the second time that researchers have seen the species exhibit this behavior. The first time was in 2005 at Monterey Bay when scientists recorded a mother Bathyteuthis with 360 eggs.

Homefield Advantage: The 2022 World Outdoor Track and Field Championship is underway in Portland, Oregon. Last Sunday (July 17), the U.S. won nine gold medals — the single best medal day for any country in the history of the event. Brooke Andersen from California won gold in the hammer throw; two-time Olympic champion Ryan Crouser of Oregon won gold in shot put; Fred Kerley of Texas, who won silver at the 2020 Summer Olympics, led the U.S. to a podium sweep of the 100M ­— the first time since 1991. Of the 2,000 athletes competing, 30 are competing on home turf in the Pacific Northwest, including Cooper Teare from Eugene. "When you hear your name called and that roar that some other people don't get, it's definitely a confidence booster on the line," Teare said. "So, I'm looking forward to it and just having the world in my backyard."

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