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Joplin's Ozark Center Receives Grant Money To Prepare For Rollout Of 988 Dialing Code

Freeman Health System

A little less than a year and a half from now, a person in a mental health crisis will have to remember only three numbers to get help:  988.

The 988 number will eventually replace 800-273-TALK, the current Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

And Ozark Center in Joplin, part of Freeman Health System, is one organization that’s received the 988 state planning grant.  The money comes from Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit administrator of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

Ozark Center became an affiliate of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in August, 2020.  It is one of 180 call centers that answer 1-800-273-TALK.  It also answers the Missouri Disaster Distress Help Line, also administered through Vibrant Emotional Health.

Ozark Center's share of the 988 state planning grant, administered through the Missouri Department of Mental Health, is $12,500.

"The planning grant is so you can do what they call a landscape analysis, which is see about how many calls we're receiving currently on the crisis hotline (the Access Crisis Intervention Hotline), the Lifeline Hotline, the Disaster Distress Hotline and then get with local 911 dispatch call centers and see how many behavioral health or mental health calls that they averaged last year," said Debbie Fitzgerald, the Ozark Center’s director of Crisis Services.

That will allow them to determine what they think the increase in call volume will be in the Joplin area, according to Fitzgerald.

"It will allow us to adequately staff up for the anticipated call volume," she said.

And she said it will allow the Ozark Center to upgrade technology if needed.  The Ozark Center's call center receives between 800 to more than 1,000 calls a month.  And that number is expected to increase.

"I think it's just going to expand access and that it's going to be easy, and the three-digit number is going to help reduce the stigma of calling," said Fitzgerald.

She believes that people who would be hesitant to call 911 for a mental health-related crisis will use the 988 dialing code.

"I think that people will really gravitate to the 988 because they know that they will immediately be connected to a counselor that will be a qualified mental health professional and who will have training and be able to deal with a variety of crisis needs very quickly," said Fitzgerald.

She hopes it will reduce the number of suicide attempts and suicide deaths.

The 988 dialing code will roll out in July, 2022.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.