Colorado is changing who answers the 988 suicide and crisis line, but won’t say why

Colorado is ending its contract with the organization that answers local calls to the national 988 Lifeline, but state officials haven’t said why — or who will take over the suicide and crisis line.

Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners currently answers calls to both 988 and the state’s 844-493-8255 (TALK) suicide prevention hotline, but its contract is scheduled to end June 30. The Colorado Behavioral Health Administration has issued a “notice of intent” to contract with another organization, but won’t release information about it until it finalizes the agreement.

Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners, which has more than 400 employees, has held the 988 contract in Colorado since the new number rolled out in 2022 and has run the state crisis line since 2011.

“The state procures services regularly to ensure state funds are issued in a transparent and competitive manner — it is common practice for agencies to conduct a full procurement process when a contract ends,” spokeswoman Stefany Busch said in a statement.

Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners CEO Bev Marquez declined to comment, but multiple employees reached out to The Denver Post expressing concerns about their jobs and the effects that a change in provider could have on Lifeline callers. All spoke on the condition of anonymity because they hope to work for the new contractor.

A woman who works as a peer support specialist for the crisis line said she worries that callers who are accustomed to talking to particular people won’t adjust well to unfamiliar voices on the other end of the phone. Some people who aren’t in touch with their families and lack other support call 988 multiple times a day, including one who has schizophrenia and relies on the crisis line to help him stay calm and sort through what’s real, she said.

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“Some of them, we are all they have,” she said.

In July 2022, the federal government rolled out the 988 Lifeline, replacing the harder-to-remember national suicide prevention line, though calls to the old number still go through. The National Association of Counties estimated Americans have made about 7 million calls to the new number. Overall, the line has been relatively successful, answering a higher percentage of calls in a shorter time than the old crisis line did, despite the increase in call volume, according to the health-focused nonprofit KFF.

Results varied by state, though. In March, Colorado centers answered about 77% of 988 calls, which was the 10th-lowest rate in the country, according to data from Lifeline. State centers have a goal of answering 95% of calls, according to STAT News, though only three states managed that in March, the most recent month with data. If someone can’t answer a call in-state, it rolls to a national backup center.

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