FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Arkansas’s 988 hotline answer rate ranked low according to a recent study.
The hotline is the free suicide prevention number you can call or text at any time you’re having a mental health crisis.
Heather Saunders, a postdoctoral fellow at the Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured, found the state’s 988 hotline had a 68.6% answer rate from July 2022 to July 2023.
There are three centers in the state that helps those contemplating suicide but some are understaffed and don’t have overnight coverage.
Rebecca Brubaker is the executive director at the Northwest Arkansas Crisis Intervention Center located in Rogers.
She says the center was short staffed until June 2023 and they were busy with calls.
“We had 2476 calls come into our center and we have six part time staff on our hotline and a few volunteers, maybe ten to 20 at a time on the lines. And so, we just couldn’t keep up with the calls. Sometimes our call staff would get 15 calls in a six-hour work shift,” Brubaker said.
Brubaker says they receive calls from all ages, even as young as 8-years-old.
When they are too busy, some callers will hang up. This contributed to the low answer rate data.
She says the staff felt overwhelmed and stressed.
“Prior to the pandemic we were getting about 246 calls a month and in May of 2022 we had 2476 calls. So that’s a drastic increase, and we basically kept the same staff. And we’re working with less funding, so it was kind of tough for them,” Brubaker said.
She says they are now able to have double coverage on the lines.
Brubaker says the Arkansas lifeline Call Center in Little Rock is down four positions and doesn’t have any overnight coverage.
She also said the 988 hotline in Fort Smith opened last year and doesn’t have overnight coverage as well.
If the center is not able to answer calls, the caller will be transferred over to the 988 center in Little Rock.
If both centers are busy, the caller is transferred out of state.