Jul 31, 2023 - Health

How the 988 crisis hotline is faring in Virginia

Share of 988 suicide and crisis hotline calls left unanswered in their own state
Data: Kaiser Family Foundation; Note: Does not include calls to the Veterans Crisis Line; Map: Alice Feng/Axios

Virginia is doing better than many states in the nation when it comes to in-state counselors answering calls to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, which launched nationwide last year.

Driving the news: 92.3% of the 11,688 988 calls made across Virginia were answered by crisis workers in the state between April and May, per a new analysis from health research outlet KFF.

  • That puts Virginia among just 14 states with an answer rate above 90%.

Yes, but: 7.7% of calls — nearly 900 in total — made in Virginia in April and May were rerouted to out-of-state call centers, per KFF.

Why it matters: When calls are transferred out of state, it becomes much harder for those specialists to locate nearby services for people in crisis.

Be smart: Around 85% of Virginia 988 calls are answered by PRS in Northern Virginia, while Frontier Health in Johnson City, Tennessee, fields calls from Southwest Virginia, per the Virginia Mercury.

  • Right now, Virginia residents with out-of-state area codes are routed to a center in that state, though the FCC is considering using cell towers for future routing, the Mercury reports.

Zoom out: Most Americans still aren't aware the 988 national suicide prevention and mental health hotline exists, Axios' Sabrina Moreno reports.

Zoom in: Virginia was better positioned than many states for the 988 launch, per the Virginia Mercury.

  • Virginia was the first in the nation to implement a 988 service fee, collected from wireless carriers, to support the state’s Crisis Call Center Fund.
  • The fee contributed $4.7 million to the fund in the last fiscal year and is budgeted to contribute over $9 million in this fiscal year.

Worth noting: Virginia is getting an average of 6,000 988 calls a month — up from over 4,300 a month a year ago, per the Mercury.

  • Its answer rate has improved, too, from last summer's 83-85%.

Still, staffing challenges persist both for the two centralized call centers in the state and at the regional offices, which are "recruiting heavily" to staff up, per the Mercury.

  • "The impact, I think, is that it takes longer to fill these positions than it did in the past," Amy Erb, senior director of Region 4 programs in Richmond, told the Mercury.

The bottom line: "We have to remember, we're at the beginning of what's going to be a marathon, not a sprint," said Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

  • "It's taken 15 years for 911 to evolve to the kind of system that it is today. We're just one year in."

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