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‘988’: Albemarle County Emergency Communications Center gears up for new suicide prevention hotline

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) – If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, help will soon be in triple digits.

Just dial 988.

“As of July 16, if you text or call this number, we will put you directly in touch with a member of the crisis call center who can explain your emergency and help you over the phone,” a said Sonny Saxton, executive director of the emergency communications center.

While the official switch to 988 has been mandated by the federal government, Saxton says work has been going on behind the scenes at ECC for years.

“We saw the need because of the extreme situations we saw in some of our communities,” Saxton said. “We also saw the need to decriminalize mental health and de-escalate.”

The program is just weeks away from rolling out, but Commonwealth and Central Virginia vendors are still working through some of the logistical issues with a new system.

“For example, when you call 988, we as a community expect some anonymity when you make that call. But what if you need emergency medical intervention and intervention? We may not know your location if you are unable to provide it,” Saxton said.

He says perfecting 988 will take years.

“I liken building 988 to what we went through 30 years ago with 911. And some communities still live with 911, and that’s the ability to consolidate and allow anyone to call a number and put it on the right, well-trained people. So with 911, it took 10, 15, 20 years,” Saxton said.

If you need help now, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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