Crisis centers face staffing shortages amid ‘988′ launch

Starting Saturday, getting in touch with the National Suicide Prevent Hotline will be easier to dial and remember.
Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 7:25 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Starting Saturday, getting in touch with the National Suicide Prevent Hotline will be easier to dial and remember.

The 10-digit hotline will drop to 9-8-8, connecting callers with local crisis centers. But experts worry those centers won’t be able to handle the expected increase in calls.

“We’ve been able to provide additional support so that more call agents could be added to each center, but we’re not immune to the national workforce issues that everyone else is experiencing,” Bill Howard, the director of crisis services and support with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, said.

Howard says from June 2021 to June 2022, around 4,700 calls were made monthly to the hotline in Virginia. That’s a 20% spike in calls from the year prior.

“It’s hard to anticipate how big the impact will be. Come Saturday, it’s all hands on deck to be able to staff it up. We think we’re a bit ahead of the curve with the support we’ve provided for our National Suicide Prevention lines,” Howard said.

VDBHDS oversees four crisis centers in Virginia. So far, Howard says those centers have managed to increase answered call rates from 51% to 85%.

Dr. John Lindstrom with the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority works hand in hand with PRS CrisisLink, the largest crisis center program in Virginia.

He says the goal is to keep calls local in case someone needs help in person. That’s where his team steps in.

“They would dispatch through our mobile hub that we’re setting up on the CSB side to get a crisis clinician or peer or other qualified individual to see them within an hour,” Lindstrom said.

However, RBHA is hoping to provide services 24/7 as they too are looking for more help.

“We don’t expect to be an entirely smooth process, but the one thing that we expect to assure is that even if we can’t handle the call as originally planned, we’re going to get the calls handled,” Lindstrom said.

Volunteers are needed, but Howard says extensive training is required.

Help is available now for anyone who calls 1-800-273-TALK or the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority 24/7 at (804) 819-4100.

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