(WHTM) — It has been three months since the 988 Suicide and Crisis lifeline rolled out, centers are seeing a rise in call volume. However, those calls are dispatched by area code which means if someone has an out-of-state number, they will not be connected to a Pennsylvania call center.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services said 80 percent of calls to the 988 lifeline are able to be resolved over the phone. Still, federal and state governments are working towards adding geolocation, which would determine where someone is calling from. It is a resource that is particularly important when people need emergency help.
Lancaster County Behavioral Health and Developmental Services is one of the only crisis call centers in the Midstate, but they don’t just answer calls from that area.
“We receive calls…that have a 717 or 223 area code,” director of crisis intervention services Rebecca Sangrey said. “We do get a lot of people who are out of the area.”
Sangrey said when someone calls the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, now available by dialing 988, the call is routed based on their area code, no matter where they are calling from.
“If you live in California, and you still have a phone number with a 717 area code, that call gets routed to us as well,” she said.
In most cases, this does not matter.
“The vast majority of callers get their needs met by talking to someone,” Kristen Houser Rapp said. Houser Rapp is the deputy secretary for the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services at the Department of Human Services.
In emergencies however, geolocation can help, especially if a caller won’t give their location.
“Our goal is to get them connected to you know, the state they’re in,” Sangrey said of an emergency.
Houser Rapp said call centers can work with police and cell phone companies to find a caller’s general location, but that takes time.
“Geolocation ends up being really critical if you have somebody who is in a real life threatening crisis,” she said.
Right now, the solution is up to the federal government.
“The FCC is working on figuring out how to establish that and get that into place,” Houser Rapp said.
In the meantime, she said the state is doing what it can.
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“We in Pennsylvania are working with the 911 call centers…[to] streamline and be more effective in our communication with them when we have somebody that’s in a crisis,” she said.
There is no timeline for when this geolocation feature will be available because it requires action by the FCC. Houser Rapp said even when geolocation is available, that will not mean call centers will be sending emergency teams or police out in every incident. It would only be used in emergencies when there’s a danger of immediate harm.