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988 mental health hotline call centers launch in Missouri, Kansas; what callers can expect

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Posted at 5:32 PM, Jul 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-28 19:17:50-04

MISSION, Kan. — People experiencing a mental health crisis now have a new way to access state resources. The three-digit 988 suicide and crisis lifeline was modeled after 911 and launched on July 16.

Lawmakers and behavioral health professionals hope it is a quick and memorable way to get immediate help.

“They will talk to a highly trained crisis counselor, who at a minimum, will provide an empathic, supportive ear,” Director of Emergency Services Rob MacDougall said. “They go through calm training, assist training, a variety of suicide prevention, suicide assessment training, we use a specific tool that also involves some level of training.”

Dispatchers listen for safety concerns like risk of suicide and risk of law enforcement contact. They also connect callers to available resources in hopes of finding short- and long-term resolutions.

MacDougall says the volume of calls coming into the call center doubled since 2017. They are projecting to hit over 37,000 calls this year. Not to mention, since the launch of the 988 program in July, the call center has already seen a 10% increase.

With growing demand, the Johnson County Mental Health Center has been busy recruiting staff nationwide, incentivizing pay and benefits to lure behavioral health professionals to the area. The center is looking to hire 12 full-time employees, a leadership position per shift and two to four part-time employees.

“Nationwide, there’s been a staffing crisis or a hiring crisis for behavioral health professionals for a good number of years,” MacDougall said. “The job is tough — it can weigh pretty heavily on folks. And we’re available 24/7, so given that scheduling, too.”

A $6 million state investment in Kansas’ three call centers has helped with the efforts. It is part of a $10 million legislation that will go towards mental health services in the state.

“Kansas was one of eight states that passed legislation with some sort of funding for the 988 call center prior to the go-live date on July 16th,” MacDougall said.

MacDougall expects their location in Mission, Kansas, to receive about $600,000 yearly. Funding is divided up by population among locations in Wichita, Lawrence and Mission.

Meanwhile, across state lines, the Missouri 988 task force is investing $16.7 million for the first year into its six call centers.

State lead Casey Muckler says they have expanded from just suicide prevention to now handling all types of crises.

“So that could be a mental health crisis, or a substance use crisis or any other type of emotional distress,” Muckler said. “It is going to act as the front door to the behavioral health system.”

Muckler says the task force includes multiple agencies to hopefully provide the most holistic care.

“People with lived experience, our law enforcement and 911 partners, substance use disorder partners and other behavioral health providers,” Muckler said.

As the demand for mental health support continues to rise, both states hope 988 is a way to streamline available resources and get people the help they need.

MacDougall hopes lawmakers will keep mental health top of mind.

“We need more mobile crisis response, more co-response, we also need a more robust crisis stabilization centers,” MacDougall said.