Biggest challenge for 988 suicide prevention line is staffing

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CHICAGO (CNBC) – Lives are at stake. Failure is not an option.

The 988 hotline has 200 local call centers nationwide. Including C4, a community counseling group in Chicago.

Perry Russom: "Saturday’s the big launch day. Are you ready?"

Kerri Brown: "No."

Kerri Brown is C4’s president and CEO.

“Currently the infrastructure is — I describe it as building a high-rise condo on the infrastructure of a single-family home," Brown said.
Brown said historically, crisis intervention has been underfunded, with the biggest challenge being staffing — finding and retaining the trained counselors who answer the calls.

Kelsey Di Pirro is the director of rapid response at C4. Di Pirro said in Illinois calls are first routed to local call centers. If no one picks up, it goes to the statewide phone bank. And if no one picks up again, it goes to the nationwide phone bank.

She said all together, wait times can range from seconds to several minutes. Since 2020, they’re seeing more calls of what she describes as “actively planned suicide situations” where every second matters.

“I think there is a healthcare hiring crisis that people all across the board are experiencing,” Hou said.

The state’s secretary of human services Grace Hou said funding has increased to community mental health centers to help workers stay.

She said they’re looking at scholarship and loan forgiveness programs to attract and retain workers

Di Pirro said her staff makes about $47,000 a year. They’ve lost 4 workers in the last month, taking higher salaries somewhere else

“Looking for master’s level clinicians, I think we’ve interviewed probably close to a dozen in the last month or tried to interview a dozen in the last month,” Di Pirro said. “We’ve brought on 2. Everyone else has declined because of salary."

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few," Brown said. “Getting individuals to choose this work while making else is almost impossible.”