Without funding, MN suicide crisis hotline will close

Updated: 5:35 p.m. | Posted: 9:30 a.m.

For the second time in less than a year, a suicide prevention hotline is planning to close.

The Crisis Connection has served Minnesotans for nearly 50 years but it's slated to shut down May 15.

The call center faced a similar fate last summer.

"It's really the same story in effect as it was last June," said Matt Eastwood, CEO of Canvas Health, the Oakdale nonprofit that operates the helpline. "We're in the same spot. Nothing has really changed."

An infusion of public and private donations, including a $139,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Health last summer kept the program afloat, only temporarily, Eastwood said.

"If there's no additional money to pay for the service, we're going to have to shut it down because we can't afford to pay for it as a small agency," he said.

Crisis Connection receives 52,000 calls a year, connecting Minnesotans in need of mental health care with counselors, Eastwood said. And the helpline is also the only center in the state that takes National Suicide Prevention Lifeline calls.

But Eastwood said it's been operating on a shoe-string budget with no legislative funding. A bill last session — a request for $1.35 million in permanent funding — was denied for being too high. Eastwood said the amount of the request has been lowered to $969,000, and it would ensure an 80 percent answer rate. But the original legislation hasn't been amended so the process has stalled.

"We seemed to have had really broad bipartisan support for our bill," he said. "The difficulty is getting it through committee and through conference committee with the dollars attached to it, and allowing the House and the Senate to actually vote on it."