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Crisis Connection hotline rescued, at least temporarily

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Leslie Martin
"If it hadn't been for Crisis Connection, I don't think I would be here today," says Leslie Martin of Mendota Heights.
Courtesy of Leslie Martin

A mental health hotline that's served Minnesotans for nearly 50 years will keep operating thanks to an eleventh-hour infusion of money. Crisis Connection had been scheduled to shut down Friday evening, but a grant from the state health department means the service will continue linking people suffering mental health emergencies to professional counselors. 

The state of Minnesota grant of $139,000 comes from federal funds for suicide prevention. It's enough to keep Crisis Connection going through September, and perhaps longer.

Matt Eastwood is CEO of Canvas Health, which operates Crisis Connection. He says financial problems had been mounting for years, with six-figure annual losses. And this year, state lawmakers declined to set aside the $1.4 million requested to fund the hotline.

"We've been reaching out to the staff who were being let go and have been confirming with them their interest in remaining with us, and we should be totally staffed up and up and running." 

Eastwood says he's hopeful that additional private money will keep Crisis Connection going until the next legislative session starts in February. That's when he'll take another crack at getting permanent state funding. 

"If we're not able to get the Legislature to support this, and ultimately the governor to sign a bill, whenever that is next session, we will be right back where we are today," Eastwood said.

Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness says Crisis Connection is a critical public service because suicides are on the rise in Minnesota. In 2015, 726 people killed themselves, the most recent data available. That's the highest rate since record keeping started.

Abderholden said there are dozens of mental health crisis lines in Minnesota because counties are required to have them. But she says the geographically disparate patchwork of numbers can be confusing for someone in an emergency. Crisis Connection is a single point of contact with a phone number that health care providers have given out for decades.

"If we're not able to get the Legislature to support this, and ultimately the governor to sign a bill, whenever that is next session, we will be right back where we are today." --  Matt Eastwood, CEO of Canvas Health

"Even in the metro area, they have different numbers for children and adults and which county you're in, so I think that really complicated things, so it was much easier just to give the Crisis Connection number," Abderholden said. 

Leslie Martin of Mendota Heights remembers calling that number just before Labor Day last year. That's when Martin, who has had depression since she was young, injured her shoulder and couldn't work. When Martin learned it would take a few days for insurance to approve an MRI, Martin says she left the clinic and was overcome with hopelessness at the unbearable pain.

"I was crying, sobbing. I didn't know what to do," Martin recalled. "All I could think of was I'm going to drive this car into a brick wall and end it all."

Martin knew she needed help, but feared calling 911 would bring an overwhelming response of police and paramedics. Then she remembered Crisis Connection. She'd heard her therapist recite the phone number on his voicemail every time she called after hours. She called the number and began talking with a counselor right away. 

Martin said the counselor talked with her calmly, contacted clinic staff to help with her shoulder pain, and got in touch with her husband. Looking back nearly a year later, Martin says the mental anguish she suffered that day was far worse than the physical.

"I absolutely credit them with saving my life. If it hadn't been for Crisis Connection, I don't think I would be here today."