FORT WORTH, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Nearly three months into a nationwide transition on the best way to get help to people experiencing a mental health crisis, calls to one of the 988 centers in Fort Worth are steadily increasing, and expected to grow with more public awareness of the hotline.
One of four major call centers in Texas handling 988 calls, a suicide and crisis lifeline, the center in Fort Worth is looking to nearly double its staff of 42.
Training is ongoing for communication staff in cities who handle 911 calls, so they know when to hand off to the new number, and also for mobile teams who can go out in person to people who need to see someone face to face.
A major marketing push hasn’t started yet following the public launch of the lifeline in July, but that’s expected early next year alongside greater awareness from law enforcement agencies interested in avoiding unnecessary police interaction on the calls.
“A lot of times most of those folks are not really wanting services,” said Mark Ware, the senior director of crisis services for My Health My Resources Tarrant County, which operates the Fort Worth call center. “They really are wanting that emotional support, somebody to listen.”
They can direct them to services though if they want them, across 71 counties where calls come in to Fort Worth. Trained crisis interventionists can also call back to check on people, or just listen as long as someone needs, offering them time and expertise that just isn’t available if the caller had dialed 911.
The transition to 988 was straightforward Ware said, since MHMR had been handling lifeline calls on a 10-digit number for about five years, and still does when someone is calling in for referrals to services.
Hiring may be the biggest hurdle to overcome as the service expands though, Ware said. In regular calls with managers of the other call centers the staffing shortage is prominent. He’s confident with weekly hiring events they will fill enough positions to handle any number of calls.
Right now, if there’s no one free to answer a call, it rolls over to a national center where the caller can still speak with someone. The intention is for the state to provide a back up call center so calls that originate in Texas, stay here, where local call takers have familiarity with resources available.
Carol Rodriguez has been taking calls in the center for two years. The time she can take to ask questions, is often invaluable in determining what someone needs. And sometimes all they needed was her voice on the phone.
“Sometimes they just need to talk things out,” she said. “Sometimes after talking to someone for about 40 minutes they say ok, I feel better now.”