New Washington crisis lifeline will explicitly serve American Indian and Alaska Native communities

A new Washington crisis lifeline that will explicitly serve American Indian and Alaska Native callers is expected to launch this month.

 

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Colleen Thompson, Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs for the Division of Prevention and Community Health at the Washington State Department of Health, discussed the new line during an Oct. 26th Joint Select Committee on Health Care Oversight meeting.

The Native and Strong Lifeline will be featured as a new option as part of the state’s 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which went live in July. It will serve American Indian and Alaska Native communities who call 988 when it launches in November, Thompson said. 

Calls will be answered by Tribal members who have received specialized training to help American Indian and Alaska Native people through crises.

“It’s independently operated and housed within Volunteers of America, one of the call centers in our state,” Thompson said. “It implements lifeline services, and they’re tailored for those affiliated with the American Indian and Alaska Native communities in our state. It’s the first of its kind in the nation and we’re really proud of that.”

Thompson said there has been a 30-50% increase in crisis line call volume in the state since 988 went live in July. All 3 of the state’s call centers—operated by Volunteers of America of Western Washington, Frontier Behavioral Health, and Crisis Connections—have experienced an increased volume in calls since 988 went live, Thompson said.

Thompson added that the 3-digit number is easier for callers to remember than the previously-used, 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) number.

“This was to be expected since more people are remembering which line to call and are utilizing these services,” she said. “Our call centers were prepared for this. They increased the volume of their staff as well as some of their infrastructure, including remote options for their staff.”

Since 988 went live, there has been a 90% in-state call answer rate, Thompson said. 

“When a person calls 988, it is routed to the NSPL line at the federal routing system and that is then referred to states,” she said. “So when I say a 90% in-state answer rate, that means our three call centers here picked up that call and responded to that individual. When you look prior to this, in-state answer rates were considerably lower. We have to hand it to our call centers to be able to address and increase volume and pick up those calls. It’s remarkable.”

Thompson expects 988 call volume to continue to increase.

“I want to note that we haven’t done promotion of this line yet and we intend to do that as we move on,” she said. “So we’re planning for that number to continue to increase over time.”