By COLIN STAUB
On July 16, a new national suicide and mental health crisis hotline rolled out. Callers dialing 988 are directed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and connected to counselors at one of more than 200 call centers nationwide.
And the primary call center for Oregon is nonprofit Lines for Life, where more than 160 workers joined AFSCME Local 1790 in ballots counted early this year. Lines for Life will field most calls and texts from Oregon area codes. It’s also one of 12 nationwide backup centers, ensuring quick responses when other call centers experience high call volume.
A separate nonprofit, Northwest Human Services, handles calls in Marion and Polk counties.
Lines for Life workers didn’t see a major uptick in calls in the first weeks after 988 launched, said crisis intervention specialist Becca Ryan Roberts, a member of the union bargaining committee. Lines for Life crisis call workers were already handling most of the local calls that will be routed through the 988 system. But Lines for Life’s role as a nationwide backup center—which began Aug. 1—means call volume could increase.
The Oregon Health Authority predicts Oregon call centers will field about 118,000 calls through 988 for the rest of 2022, with a gradual increase to 308,000 in the fifth full year of the service.
Lines for Life is also launching a 24/7 text and chat crisis line for 988, an entirely new service that a new team of workers has been trained on, Roberts said. It’s different communicating with people in crisis over text, building rapport, assessing for risk if a person stops responding.
The organization has been hiring: Lines for Life workforce totaled about 160 when workers unionized, and has since grown to more than 200, Roberts estimates.
The union bargaining committee surveyed members to gauge priorities for the first contract, and the two sides have begun bargaining.