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Bloomington's PATH is answering 300+ calls per day from 988 suicide and crisis hotline

Elva Etienne
Getty Images file
Bloomington-based PATH is the primary 988 call center provider for the entire state, with its employees the first in line for calls from 85 counties and a backup for the others. They’re fielding over 300 calls per day.

The Bloomington nonprofit known as PATH says it’s experienced high demand for the newly expanded 988 suicide prevention and crisis hotline.

PATH is the primary 988 call center provider for the entire state, with its employees the first in line for calls from 85 counties and a backup for the others, said Kevin Richardson, call center operations director for PATH. They’re fielding over 300 calls per day, he said.

“Things are busy as ever, frankly. We have a ton of new staff who are really doing excellent work,” Richardson said. “Everyone of us is working extremely hard, every single day.”

PATH now has around 80 crisis counselors on staff, plus managers, trainers, and quality-assurance staffers, he said. Almost all of them were hired specifically for the launch of the 988 hotline, which greatly expanded the crisis call work that PATH was already doing. (PATH is no stranger to crisis calls; it formed in 1971, with volunteers taking calls to help students with drug issues.)

Staffing has been the biggest challenge with the 988 rollout, Richardson said. There is some turnover, given the difficult nature of the work. PATH puts new hires through a rigorous four-week training, so people are exposed to what the job will entail, he said. Sometimes they weed themselves out.

“We’re hearing stories about folks who are dealing with some of the worst moments in their lives. It can be triggering. It can be really difficult. And sometimes you don’t find that out until you’re doing it, unfortunately,” Richardson said.

The hotline is 24/7, which creates more staffing challenges.

“We need to staff past midnight, at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. It’s tough to fill those roles, especially with a job that’s just naturally this difficult, that’s that taxing. It takes a special person to do this kind of work,” Richardson said.

PATH is hiring more counselors now. That work is funded by the state of Illinois, as part of the national rollout of 988 that began last summer.

Their efforts are making a real difference, Richardson said.

“Every day, there are success stories with individuals who will literally come and say, ‘I don’t know if I can make it through the day.’ And by the end of the conversation, they’re saying, ‘You really helped me. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.’ Whether or not that’s a long-term plan, the goal of our line is to always just ensure we are there to provide – if nothing else – a listening ear.”

He added: “It’s absolutely working. And research shows that on the national level as well."

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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