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Suicide calls tripled with launch of 988; Crisis Center waiting on funding to hire more staff

The new, nationwide lifeline 988 launched Saturday.

TAMPA, Fla. — Three digits, 988: It's a new number and our country's latest tool for preventing suicides.

The goal is to make 988 as familiar as 911 so people know it as the number you call when you're having a mental health crisis.

The phone line launched Saturday, July 16, and the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, our local agency running the call center, saw call volume more than triple on launch day.

RELATED: Call centers expecting big spike when suicide lifeline 988 launches July 16

Operators are in place 24/7 to be a listening ear when someone needs it most, but it can be a tough job and the call center could have used more staff weeks ago.

"We trust our local funders are going to be able to move these dollars out as quickly as possible, we all just wish it could have happened eight weeks ago," said President and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay Clara Reynolds.

Reynolds hasn't been able to make new hires for the 988 line because they're waiting on federal money.

"We know the allocation has been provided, it is in the process, it is just the bureaucratic paperwork," Reynolds said.

Once the team hires more people, it still takes six to eight weeks before operators are trained to answer suicide calls.

Despite the added call volume this past weekend, Reynolds said operators were able to manage the demand saying, "I did not have any reports of excessive waits."

If local operators can't get to an incoming call, it's rerouted to another center.

"The goal is for you never to have any busy signals or be put in a queue," Reynolds said. "The goal is you get to a human being as quickly as possible."

The original lifeline 1-800-273-TALK is still operational — 988 is taking people to the same operators, just with a number that's easier to remember.

RELATED: New 988 hotline is the 911 for mental health emergencies

RELATED: New 988 suicide hotline launches in July

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