In a letter to lawmakers sent Monday, Gov. Mark Gordon recommended $400,000 be set aside to help fund a suicide prevention hotline in Wyoming, the only state in the country that doesn’t have a local branch of the national service.
The Department of Health, in its request to the Legislature, had asked for just over $1 million to establish and run the hotline. Lawmakers appeared somewhat leery of that request last month, with one questioning if the department couldn’t “do this a whole lot better.” In his initial budget, Gordon recommended the request be rejected.
But on Monday, Gordon indicated he’d changed his thinking.
“Over the last month, I’ve received additional details on how to establish and operate a state hotline,” he wrote.
He added that “Wyoming fares poorly in national measures of this epidemic, and a considered effort on our part would be well received. The citizens of our state will benefit from the Department of Health exception request to establish a suicide hotline.”
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Gordon is certainly correct in assessing Wyoming’s struggle with suicide: The Equality State has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Suicides among teenagers alone have jumped 40 percent in just three years.
He added in his letter that he has “it on good authority” that $400,000 “more accurately reflects the actual cost” of establishing the hotline, rather than $1 million requested by health officials.
In a statement, Health Department spokeswoman Kim Deti said the agency “appreciates the governor’s support for a Wyoming-based suicide prevention hotline.” She said the initial $1 million estimate “was an initial estimate for 24 hours per day, seven days per week coverage. Coverage for fewer hours per day and/or fewer days per week would result in a lower cost.”
She said the costs could be highly variable, depending on how many hours and days the hotline is available. The department “will not have final cost estimates for a suicide prevention lifeline” until it begins gathering bids from vendors.
While Wyoming is the only state without a local hotline, people here can still call the national number. Their calls will be answered by national responders, who won’t be aware or familiar with local resources.
Even still, in their pitch to lawmakers last month, Health Department officials said Wyomingites’ use of the national hotline had jumped in recent years. From 2017 to 2018, calls from Wyoming increased by 89 percent, from 2,236 to 4,234. In each of those years, more than 800 calls from Wyoming “were either dropped or unanswered.”