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Colorado prepares for launch of 988 mental health crisis line

Colorado already provides 24/7 mental health support through Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners. Those calls will transfer to the new 988 hotline.

COLORADO, USA — Getting mental health support will soon be as easy as dialing three digits. 9-8-8 is the mental health version of the 9-1-1 emergency number, and it launches nationwide on Saturday.

Colorado already provides 24/7 mental health support through the Colorado crisis support line run by Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners (RMCP), and those calls will transfer to the new 9-8-8 hotline.  

9NEWS caught up with RMCP's CEO Bev Marquez to find out how Colorado is preparing for the new phone line. 

What does RMCP provide?

Marquez: As an organization, we provide in-the-moment support and crisis intervention to Coloradans who have any mental health, substance abuse or suicidal concerns for themselves or someone else. We are a 24/7 call center with immediate access to talk about those things in a confidential way with experienced professionals. We are the provider of the Colorado Crisis Line which has been in effect since 2014. We are also Colorado’s provider for the national suicide prevention lifeline which is currently a 10-digit number and that is the number that will be changing to 9-8-8 effective July 16.

How do you think 9-8-8 will impact how mental health is addressed?

Marquez: I think the best thing that it means is that it’s going to be easier to know where to start. It’s an easier number to remember, next year there will be quite a marketing campaign to let folks know what the line is for and I think it’s going to help know that there’s a commitment in the country and further commitment in Colorado to help individuals get the help they need.

Also a three-digit number I think it really responds to what has been a stigma for many years, it’s now going to be as common to address a mental health concern as it is a public safety concern or a medical concern or any other. Just really establishing that this is critical and we are committed to you getting help as low barrier way as possible.

How is RMCP preparing for the anticipated increase in callers with the 9-8-8 launch?

Marquez: Currently we answer about 360,000 calls a year between both of the lines, we anticipate within the next 12 months that will grow to 562,000 calls and that’s just for the first year and then as folks really learn about it, as people call here instead of 9-1-1 and all of the upstream efforts, we think that number will grow.

A year ago at this time, we had about 130 employees we now are right at 200 and we anticipate adding 50 to 70 more over the next 3 months.

For us this would really be an expansion of something that we have been doing for years, an expansion is tough right now because of the pandemic because of the workforce challenges, because of the anticipated volume, because of the funding for 9-8-8 is much more substantial than we've ever had. Colorado passed a surcharge that we all will be contributing to and that's how we will get funded. 

That helps us to give additional salary increases, to enhance our benefit plan. We also have become a statewide employer which means that you can join this effort living anywhere in Colorado because we now have remote onboarding and training and you can work remotely in a HIPAA compliant, private workplace. So all of those things have allowed us to cast a broader net for individuals that want to not just join the 9-8-8 initiative but to consider it as a career path.

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