The Governor signed the health and human services budget bill that included funds and a mechanism for a statewide mental health crisis hotline. And, advocates and providers have long envisioned a one-stop phone number similar to 1-800-Bets Off, Iowa’s gambling hotline through Iowa’s department of public health.

crisis phone

One big challenge with crisis hotlines in Iowa is that each individual region has its own number. And, even when one agency provided coverage for a large part of the state, each region had an individual number for data tracking purposes. In addition, most community mental health centers maintain a 24-hour hotline independent of the region.

Persons in crisis and those trying to assist are not able to keep up with numerous numbers for help. Therefore, a statewide, comprehensive call in center with a centralized information portal is key to getting people help in a timely fashion.

Regional Numbers:

Regions submitted their service plans prior to the final passage of the funding for the statewide hotline. Below is the list of current phone numbers by region for 24 hour support:

  1. Central Iowa Community Services: 844-258-8858
  2. County Rural Offices of Social Services: 844-430-8520
  3. County Social Services: 855-581-8111
  4. Eastern Iowa MHDS region: 844-430-0375
  5. Heart of Iowa Region: 855-581-8111
  6. MHDS of the East Central Region: 855-581-8111
  7. Northwest Iowa Care Connections: 844-345-4569
  8. Polk County Health Services: 515-282-5752
  9. Rolling Hills Community Services Region: Through Mercy Hospital In development in 2020
  10. Sioux Rivers MHDS: 888-546-0730
  11. South Central Behavioral Health Region: 844-430-8520
  12. Southeast Iowa Link: 877-404-4770
  13. Southern Hills Regional Mental Health: In development in 2020
  14. Southwest Iowa MHDS Region: 844-673-4469

Looking through the list of hotlines, you can see why state leaders have advocated for one statewide number instead of this list. Persons in crisis cannot remember multiple phone numbers. First responders and assisting providers struggle to remember various numbers.

Also, Iowa’s mental heath system needs all the money it has for services. Marketing a hotline number, to be utilized and effective costs money. If all 14 regions worked toward the same end, the money would go farther to educate those who need it.

Challenges to a statewide number include:

There are a few providers of hotline work that will lose contracts with a statewide number. The state law moved the responsibility for the number to the Department of Public Health. That means any funding regions were paying to community providers for the twenty-four-hour service is no longer needed. Looking at regional budgets, it appears that regions will each save about $120,000 not having to pay a contractor directly.

A second challenge is that several regions have already paid for marketing their local crisis number. Several regions have done a good job of promoting and utilizing their current number. A plan will need to be implemented to seamlessly change over to a statewide number.

Finally, the state needs to fund a promotional campaign when the statewide number is launched. Without promotion, there will not be a similar reality to the gambling hotline as intended. People know about 1-800- Bets off because of marketing. The state needs to come up with a plan to do the same for the new hotline.

Discussion Question:

What are your ideas for a statewide name of a hotline? Do you think it will help access to services across the state?