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As Suicide Prevention Text Line Expands, Phone Line May Go Unanswered

Minnesota calls to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline are currently rerouted to Crisis Connection. (Pinc Floit/Flickr)
Minnesota calls to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline are currently rerouted to Crisis Connection. (Pinc Floit/Flickr)
April 4, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Crisis Connection, which is operated by Canvas Health, has answered Minnesota calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for decades - but says it might stop if it doesn't get some funding from the state.

The company had requested almost $1.4 million in state funding last legislative session, saying that amount would allow enough staffing to answer 95 percent of calls, but lawmakers said it was too expensive. Canvas Health chief executive Matt Eastwood said the suicide-prevention lifeline stays afloat with money from a variety of sources, including smaller state contracts, but it isn't enough.

"We end up losing between $100,000 and $300,000 a year operating the service," he said.

Crisis Connection reported that it gets about 52,000 Minnesota calls per year, about 70 percent of which are answered. The company wants almost $970,000 a year for an 80 percent answer rate, and said last session's bill could be picked up and amended by the Legislature. Regardless of the outcome, Minnesota will have a company answering text messages to an emergency number.

This isn't the first near-closure for the hotline. It almost stopped service last summer, but was saved by emergency funds from the Minnesota Department of Health. Eastwood said he can only speculate what will happen if his company stops picking up the phone.

"What we think will happen is those calls will end up going to law enforcement," he said, "or will result in more people will end up going to already overcrowded emergency departments."

Eastwood disputed the Department of Human Services' claim that the suicide prevention text line is available statewide for the first time. He says his company used to handle text messages, but the state chose a new contractor to save money. According to Eastwood, the only difference now is that people are promoting the service across the state instead of in select areas.

"What we didn't have was a regional coordinator in every part of the state out there marketing the program," he said, "and that's really the difference."

The Department of Human Services has said Canvas Health was only contracted to run a text-message service in 54 counties, but often answered texts from throughout the state. That contract expired Saturday, and the new provider began Sunday.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. Assistance via text message is available by texting the letters 'MN' to 741741.

Elizabeth Braun, Public News Service - MN