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In the Mountain West, in-state answer rates of 988 calls are all over the map

A wallet-sized card that has “988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline” written in the top-left corner and a QR code to its website in the bottom-right corner. In the background is a photo of a woman smiling and looking outside through a window.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline wallet card, pictured here, is one of the materials meant to help publicize the new three-digit suicide prevention number.

Last summer, the nation got a new three-digit suicide prevention number: 988. A new analysis found the in-state answer rates so far vary widely, especially in the Mountain West.

In Utah, calls to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline were answered within state borders 86% of the time in December 2022, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis published last week. New Mexico’s in-state answer rate was 81%, followed by Colorado (76%) and Idaho (75%).

According to Kaiser, 988 calls that are not answered in state are routed to an out-of-state overflow facility or dropped by the caller.

Notably, Montana had the third-highest in-state answer rate (97%), trailing only Mississippi and Rhode Island, which were each at 98%.

Meanwhile, Nevada and Wyoming had some of the lowest rates in the nation at 65% and 62%, respectively.

“People who are in a state of crisis, who are feeling suicidal, or who are having substance use disorder might reach out to the call line and find that they're either waiting for a long time or they have a lot of difficulty reaching somebody on the other end of the line,” said Heather Saunders, a postdoctoral fellow who works on Kaiser's program on Medicaid and the uninsured.

Saunders said crisis centers’ lack of funding and staffing can be a factor. Under the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, states can collect telecommunication fees to sustainably fund their local 988 call centers. Yet, only five states have enacted laws to do so: Nevada, Colorado, California, Washington and Virginia.

Utah and Wyoming are two of 11 states that have enacted partial telecommunications fee legislation.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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