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National suicide hotline in danger of shut-off over unpaid Federal Government bills

RAW STORY
Published: Friday August 11, 2006

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A nonprofit organization that operates the nation's largest suicide hotline is owed $266,000 by the Federal Government and is in danger of having its phone lines cut off at 5pm. Simultaneously, the government is hoping to direct callers to a new hotline, operated by the Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, RAW STORY has learned.

"Our concern is that in order for suicide hotlines to be effective, the lines must be completely confidential," Save-1-800-SUICIDE spokesman Scott Goodstein told RAW STORY today. "Who will call a suicide hotline if there is any fear that a record of the call can be made by the government or if they are concerned their call might be logged into a government database?" he asked.

The statement by the operators of the hotline maintain that the government SAMHSA has gone on to create their own competing crisis hotline -- which gives them access to callers' private information through phone records

Save 1-800-SUICIDE's press release follows:

On the web: www.save1800suicide.org

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1-800-SUICIDE, the nation's best known, private and confidential suicide prevention hotline network, will be shut off at midnight tonight unless action is taken. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), a division of HHS, has decided to end all funding for KBHC while continuing to owe them $266,000 from over 2 years ago. Instead of sending the funds that were already allocated, SAMHSA has gone on to create their own competing crisis hotline -- which gives them access to callers' private information through phone records. 1-800-SUICIDE does not disclose its phone records to the federal government.

A grassroots effort called "Save 1-800-SUICIDE www.save1800suicide.org" was created to enlist supporters' help in asking the federal government to make good on their commitment. This online effort sent over 2500 emails to SAMHSA and raised over $7,000 in the past ten days -- but fell short the $60,512 in over due phone bills to keep the line connected. ( see http://www.save1800suicide.org/shutoffnotice )

In response to this campaign, according to KBHC, SAMHSA issued a misleading press release disavowing any responsibility for the bills owed to 1-800-SUICIDE. However, the lawyers for 1-800- SUICIDE clarified and reiterated SAMHSA's responsibility, and even made several additional attempts to talk with SAMHSA yesterday. Unfortunately for KBHC -- and the thousand-plus callers a day that use the hotline -- they were unable to come to an agreement. To read the legal response visit: http://www.save1800suicide.org/samhsa.html

KBHC network covers more than 200 crisis centers with 20 different distinct peer support hotlines such as the Youth America Hotline, veterans hotlines, postnatal depression moms hotline, etc... 1-800-SUICIDE stands firm in its commitment to provide the best hotline support network with complete confidentiality of the caller's identity.

"I created this hotline in honor and memory of my wife and wanted it to have the utmost in integrity to the caller and to their family. It is unfair that SAMHSA is simply not paying the bills from 2004. They punish not only me for not giving them access to the data -- but the calls that need help, will not get answered" stated Reese Butler, founder of KBHC.

1-800-SUICIDE's annual budget is approximately $360,000. KBHC already has several benefits and annual fundraising events in the works for 2007, which will cover their budget. Nonetheless, they are still $260,000 in debt to their telephone service providers and vendors because of the federal government's un-kept promise of direct support. "SAMHSA simply needs to accept or reject our claim. Instead, they are salivating at the opportunity to take over this hotline," said Butler. (See http://www.save1800suicide.org/hostiletakeover )

Kristin Brooks Hope Center is a registered 501c3 not-for profit. It operates the National Hopeline Network that Reese Butler started building in 1998 in honor and memory of his wife Kristin who died by suicide.