LINCOLN–(News Release Mar. 7)–Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, with communications and mental health officials, today said a new partnership between the Lincoln Emergency Communications Center (LECC) and the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline represents a significant step forward in crisis response and underscores the City’s commitment to prioritizing mental health. Lincoln is the first city in Nebraska to establish the 911/988 partnership.

“This new partnership reflects the priority we place on mental health and ensures that anyone in our community who needs a lifeline gets one. Thanks to the work of our public safety professionals and state and community partners, that lifeline is now just a phone call away,” Mayor Gaylor Baird said.

This innovative partnership empowers 911 telecommunicators to connect individuals in suicidal crisis or emotional distress directly to licensed crisis counselors at the 988 Lifeline. With this system in place, callers in need of immediate mental health support can access trained professionals without necessitating law enforcement intervention. Previously, LPD officers were dispatched to all calls regarding callers in mental health crisis. LPD officers will continue to be available to respond if immediate law enforcement intervention is necessary.

The 988 Lifeline is a free, confidential service provided through a national network of more than 200 crisis centers. Calls to 988 are routed to the nearest center based on the caller’s area code. In addition to handling calls, the centers offer resources such as text, chat, mobile services, training and educational resources on suicide prevention and mental wellness.

Joining Mayor Gaylor Baird at the news conference were Jessica Loos, 911 Communications Coordinator; Kyle Kinney, 988 Nebraska Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Program Manager; and Dr. Steve Corsi, Chief Executive Officer for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Loos said that over the last six months of 2023, the LECC received nearly 6,000 mental health crisis calls that could have been assessed for possible transfer to a 988 counselor. Because the 911/988 collaboration expands the ability of emergency dispatchers to assign personnel more efficiently, she said, it further strengthens the confidence the community has in its 911 emergency communications service.

“It remains our priority that community members who call 911 trust it will connect them to the right resource in their time of need. Through this partnership, we are able to recognize the critical role 988 plays in responding to mental health crises,” Loos said.

Kinney said that since the 988 Lifeline became available in Nebraska in 2022, the service has received 42,000 calls. Counselors have been able to de-escalate crisis situations for 97% of the callers, he said, and avoid unnecessary interaction with law enforcement or emergency medical services.

“Callers reach our crisis counselors and find folks who will work to understand the crisis, assess the safety risks, explore options for safety and develop a plan. These counselors will help them navigate through resources and follow up to make sure their needs have been met. We want each and every caller to feel like they have the help they need,” Kinney said.

Dr. Corsi said the seamless interoperability between 911 and 988 emphasizes the organizations’ commitment to ensure that Nebraskans experiencing thoughts of suicide, or a mental health crisis are promptly connected with the appropriate resources and support.

“With 988 being in its second year of service, it is important to recognize that some community members may not be fully aware of how to utilize this resource during a mental health crisis. Individuals may resort to calling their on-call doctor, reaching out to 911, or visiting an emergency room instead of utilizing 988,” Dr. Corsi said. “This pilot program emerges as a vital component in linking Nebraskans with community-based services, effectively reducing the reliance on law enforcement and hospital services during mental health crises.”

For more information on the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, visit 988lifeline.org.