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Northeast Ohio mental health agencies prepare to answer 988 crisis hotline calls

988 map.JPG
Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services
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Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services
This map shows the lack of coverage in some parts of Ohio before the new 988 mental health crisis number was established and how 988 calls will be directed.

If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, call 988, the new number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Starting Saturday, Northeast Ohio residents can call or text 988, a new mental health crisis hotline. The number is a way to connect non-emergency mental health situations with experts who can help, instead of calling 911 or the much longer and harder to remember 1-800-273-8255.

The calls will be routed to one of seven regional call centers based on the person's area code. For those in the 216 and 440 area codes, trained experts at Cleveland's Frontline Services will answer the phone.

Frontline Services already operates a suicide prevention and mental health hotline, so the agency is prepared to answer the expected influx of new calls that may come from the 988 number, officials said.

However, the organization still needs more staff, said Rick Oliver, Frontline's director of crisis and trauma services

"I have some open positions right now that I'm working to fill," Oliver said.

There is a plan in place if the phone lines are full, he said. Another regional call center will serve as a backup, or the call may be routed to the state or national line.

Lorain County's Nord Center is the primary call center for 10 Ohio counties, Lorain, Medina, Ashland, Richland, Erie, Huron, Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca, and Wyandot counties.

It will also serve as a backup call center for some counties if their lines are full.

Director of Crisis Services Amber Smith said she would also like to hire more people.

"I think everyone, especially community mental health agencies, are in a bit of a staffing crisis right now," she said.

Portage Path Behavioral Health is the designated agency to handle 988 calls from Summit and Lake counties. Townhall II will answer calls from Portage County, and Ravenwood Health will be the primary call center for Geauga County.

Coleman Professional Services will answer calls from Stark, Wayne, Holmes, Tuscarawas, and Carroll counties.

Help Network of Northeast Ohio is the primary call center for Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning, and Columbiana counties.

Lisa Ryan is a health reporter at Ideastream Public Media.