OLYMPIA — Washington state’s behavioral health system is coming out of the 2023 legislative session with nearly $1 billion in new funding and crucial innovative initiatives established.

“With the rollout of Washington’s new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, our state is becoming a national model for behavioral health crisis intervention,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), deputy majority leader of the Senate. “And this year, the Legislature stepped up to fulfill that promise — not only to deliver the services that people in crisis need, but to build a system and a workforce that can help prevent crises before they happen.”

The 2023 operating budget, signed by the governor today, makes $957 million in behavioral health investments, including support for new legislation passed and signed into law this session that will improve behavioral health crisis response, prevent crises, and grow the behavioral health workforce.

In addition to SB 5536, which focuses on treatment and funding for a public health approach to substance use disorder, legislation passed this session includes:

Improving behavioral health crisis response

SB 5120, sponsored by Dhingra, creates an alternative to emergency rooms and jails for people with behavioral health needs by establishing a system for certified crisis relief centers. This new type of crisis diversion facility can provide short-term help to patients regardless of behavioral health acuity.

Currently, behavioral health facilities require a cumbersome medical clearance before accepting someone in crisis, so first responders take them instead to places that do not: emergency rooms and jails.

SB 5120 establishes a “no-wrong-door” framework, meaning that people in mental health and substance use crises will not be turned away. In these centers, people can get short-term care and make connections to longer-term services that can help them reacclimate to a stable lifestyle.

HB 1134, sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines) expands the services provided through the 988 crisis hotline. This bill creates an endorsement for 988 rapid-response crisis teams, which will be the primary response teams for people experiencing a significant behavioral health emergency that requires an urgent, in-person response.

Preventing behavioral health crises

SB 5300, sponsored by Dhingra, allows patients to stay on behavioral health medication regimens that have kept them stable. This bill requires that, once a behavioral health patient has been stabilized, health insurance carriers cannot require substitutions of other drugs when it is time to refill a prescription.

SB 5228, sponsored by Dhingra, provides occupational therapy services for people with behavioral health disorders, including new clients in low-barrier housing. Occupational therapists teach basic activities of daily living, household skills, and methods of managing acute symptoms, which can make the difference between failure and success for clients.

SB 5440, sponsored by Dhingra, improves our state’s system for restoring competency to stand trial for people with behavioral health disorders. This is part of the state’s ongoing response to the Trueblood lawsuit filed in 2014.

Growing the behavioral health workforce

HB 1069, sponsored by Rep. Mari Leavitt (D-University Place), adopts the Mental Health Counselor compact, which will make it easier for behavioral health specialists from out of state to come work here.

SB 5189, sponsored by Sen. Yasmin Trudeau (D-Tacoma), creates a certification for behavioral health support specialists who can deliver evidence-based interventions under the supervision of licensed providers.

SB 5555, sponsored by Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), establishes a new state-certified profession of peer specialists, to make use of the skills of people who have life experience valuable in providing services to those in recovery from mental health or substance use disorder.

HB 1724, sponsored by Rep. Jessica Bateman (D-Olympia), helps strengthen the workforce by getting qualified behavioral health providers into the field as quickly and safely as possible.