Minn. mental health hotline closing

For nearly 50 years, "Crisis Connection" helped people in need get in touch with local psychiatrists and counselors.

Financial issues are forcing a mental health hotline in Minnesota to disconnect.

For nearly 50 years, Crisis Connection has helped people in need get in touch with local resources that offer longer-term support. Counselors respond to any problem 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. The services are free.

The hotline, a lifeline for thousands, will close Friday at 5 p.m.

"Certainly our numbers are increasing. The work doesn't get any easier, it gets tougher to fund every year," said Matt Eastwood, chief executive officer of Canvas Health.

According to Eastwood, Crisis Connection has been around since 1969. The Oakdale-based nonprofit acquired the program in 2010.

"They were going out of business for the same reasons that we are today... paying for the service, finding someone to pay for the service," Eastwood said.

The program receives money through contracts with different groups, as well as fundraising. But Eastwood said the hotline still has an annual deficit of $150,000-$300,000.

Earlier in the year, the program failed to get state funding.

"We needed to convince the state of Minnesota that ultimately they're the funding source, that this is a public health and public safety issue for all Minnesotans and that really the funding should come from the state of Minnesota," Eastwood said.

The news comes at a time when Crisis Connection is seeing an increase in calls. According to Eastwood, about 50,000 calls came into the center's lines in 2016. The Crisis Connection number alone is projected to receive 20,000 phone calls on its own for the year.

"The economy is doing much better but we're seeing an increase in our call center numbers which kind of runs counterintuitive, I think, to what you might expect," Eastwood said.

Crisis Connection also takes calls for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. That resource will not be going away but calls will be routed out-of-state.

"It's just not the same as having local feet on the ground. People who know Minnesota, who care about Minnesota, who are a part of this community," Eastwood said.

The call center's closure means seven positions will be eliminated. Two of those positions hadn't been filled, so five employees will lose their jobs.

Eastwood said those in a life-threatening crisis should call 911. People can also contact their local mobile crisis team. The National Alliance on Mental Illness also has local resources listed on its website.

On Monday, staff at the call center were keeping a tally of the people who were calling in to say thank you.

"There's always hope. We couldn't do this work if we weren't hopeful on some level, so we remain hopeful," Eastwood said. "We keep talking to various agencies and departments and we would like to think that there would be an angel investor that drops in, maybe a foundation, maybe an individual, maybe the state, that can rescue this at the last minute."

© 2017 KARE-TV


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