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Some states are struggling to prepare for calls to the 988 mental health crisis line

Jul 12, 2022 06:32AM ● By Editor
Barbara Wheatley takes phone calls as part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network. Wheatley is an alcohol and substance abuse counselor, and the lead clinician for mobile crisis response for Memorial Behavioral Health in Springfield, Ill.  Photo: Memorial Behavior Health

By Carter Bennet from National Public Radio News • July 12, 2022

Staff at Memorial Behavioral Health in Springfield, Ill., are on call around the clock to talk with people struggling with suicidal thoughts, drug addiction or other mental health crises. 

They provide a listening ear and help connect people to resources or crisis support, if needed.

Until recently, the hospital's call center was operated by on-call nurses and other clinical staff. But at times when everyone was tied up with patients, calls would go unanswered, bumping the caller to the nearest available call center, often in another state or a national backup center. 

"Staff would answer the phone 24/7, but if they were busy with intakes or with residents ... then they wouldn't be available to take the call," said Diana Knaebe, president and system administrator of Memorial Behavioral Health.

Across the state, Illinois-based call centers answered just one in 5 in-state calls to the lifeline in the first three months of 2022. The other 80 percent were redirected to other states. Illinois has the lowest in-state answer rate in the nation, lagging far behind others. The state with the second-lowest rate, Texas, answered 40 percent of its calls during that same time period.

Letting so many calls go unanswered wasn't ideal, but without state or federal support, Knaebe said it was the best they could do.

To see the original story and read related reporting, follow this link to the MPR News website.

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