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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

Ohio lawmakers urged to find funding for 988 suicide hotline before money runs out

Sandy Williams of Columbus talks about losing her father, Jerry, to suicide two days before his 75th birthday. She and other advocates are urging state lawmakers to find a funding source to pay for the national 988 suicide hotline in Ohio. [Karen Kasler /  Statehouse News Bureau]
Sandy Williams of Columbus talks about losing her father, Jerry, to suicide two days before his 75th birthday. She and other advocates are urging state lawmakers to find a funding source to pay for the national 988 suicide hotline in Ohio.

The national 988 suicide hotline was hailed as a life-saving tool when it was rolled out in July. But there was no federal funding for the 180 local crisis centers in all 50 states that take those calls.

Advocates in Ohio want state lawmakers to start now to plan for how to fund the hotline here.

The $20 million in initial funding for Ohio’s 988 suicide hotline is paid with federal American Rescue Plan dollars that are set to run out in June. Advocates say money for the hotline shouldn’t come from other mental health services, and are proposing a 50-cent monthly fee on cell phones.

They include Sandy Williams of Columbus, who lost her father Jerry to suicide two days before his 75 th birthday.

“I'll pay that fifty cents every freakin’ day if that's what it takes," Williams said. "So I would hope that you can look at us and see that that we're suffering here. But we want to help people to not join our club."

Cheri Walter, CEO of the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities says a dedicated, sustainable funding source for the hotline needs to be found.

“The funds for this should not be pulled from any existing component of the behavioral health system in Ohio," Walter said. "We continue to see increased deaths as a result of suicide and overdoses. We can't pull money from existing services. We're still in crisis.”

While the state doesn’t yet have data on the use of the hotline in Ohio, the American Medical Association says there was a 45% jump in calls following the launch of the new 988 number in August compared to August 2021.

The Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation estimates 1,730 Ohioans die by suicide every year. That's nearly five lives lost every day.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.