The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and the leader of the Substance Use and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon traveled to Puerto Rico this week to meet with officials on efforts to improve mental health and substance use care for the people of this U.S. territory. While SAMHSA officials routinely visit Puerto Rico, this is the first visit by a sitting head of SAMHSA.
Today, Assistant Secretary Dr. Delphin-Rittmon visited Puerto Rico’s mental health and substance use treatment and recovery services, Administración de Servicios de Salud Mental y Contra la Adicción (ASSMCA), and ASSMCA’s Línea PAS which serves as Puerto Rico’s 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline call center, to discuss the July transition to 988 and plans for the center to become a national Spanish network center for the 988 Lifeline. Starting in November, Línea PAS will respond to calls from across the U.S. requesting help in Spanish.
“We are so grateful to Puerto Rico for stepping up to help those across the country calling the 988 Lifeline and looking for compassionate care and help during crisis,” said Assistant Secretary Delphin-Rittmon. “The U.S. is facing a mounting mental health crisis, and it is crucial that people have somewhere to turn when they’re in crisis – and equally important that they can speak to someone in their preferred language.”
Spanish call demand increased by 26% from February to August 2022. Puerto Rico is expected to play a critical role in improving Spanish services overall for the United States and eventually help the 988 Lifeline develop and activate Spanish chat and text.
“We appreciate Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon's commitment to ASSMCA and her interest in identifying the necessary resources to attend the population in need of mental health and substance abuse services, and the efforts to promote public policy for prevention and treatment services,” said ASSMCA Administrator Dr. Carlos Rodríguez Mateo. “Dr. Delphin-Rittmon’s visit is extremely significant, as she will be able to evaluate first-hand the work that the ASSMCA has done, through its human behavior professionals in the 78 municipalities after the impact of Hurricane Fiona, and at the same time how the PAS Line operates. Also, recognizing that beginning in November 2022, the PAS Line will offer services in Spanish to all Spanish-speaking residents in the United States as a backup center, thus becoming a model of emotional support resource for the world, which in turn represents opportunities to access new proposals and other resources for the well-being of Puerto Ricans.”
Later this week, Assistant Secretary Delphin-Rittmon will attend the National Harm Reduction Conference and meet local elected officials, faith-based leaders, the commission on suicide prevention and others.
The officials also discussed SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990) which saw a large uptick in calls from Puerto Rico area codes following the recent hurricane. DDH counselors are available 24/7 to respond to people who need crisis counseling after experiencing a traumatic event or a disaster.
Counselors are trained to offer confidential support to people who may be experiencing a range of symptoms. Like the 988 Lifeline, Spanish-speakers can press “2” for bilingual support.
In Fiscal Year 2022, Puerto Rico received more than $161 million in federal grants from SAMHSA for mental health and substance use, including suicide prevention and opioid response grants.