(Joplin, MO) – Suicide is among the top three leading causes of death in Missouri for people ages 10 to 34. One in five Missourians above the age of 18 has a mental health condition. Behind each of these statistics are people, families and communities who have been impacted, but there is hope in the face of these urgent realities. Beginning July 16, crisis staff at Ozark Center, an entity of Freeman Health System, will answer the new 988 dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“Ozark Center is one of 200 crisis centers nationwide to join this new 988 network,” said Paula F. Baker, Freeman Health System President and Chief Executive Officer. “Staffed by specialists with extensive training in supportive counseling and self-harm risk reduction, the Ozark Center 988 line will receive calls from Barton, Jasper, Newton and McDonald counties. Suicide is the most preventable, leading cause of death in the country, and we encourage anyone having an emotional or mental crisis to call 988 for help, day or night.”

“988 is more than just an easy-to-remember number — it’s a direct connection to compassionate, accessible care and support for anyone experiencing mental health-related distress,” said Vicky Mieseler, Ozark Center Chief Administrative Officer.

People can use 988 if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide, a mental health or substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.

“988 is the first step toward strengthening and transforming crisis care in this country!” Mieseler said. “It will serve as a universal entry point, so that no matter where you live, you can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help. The vision for 988 is to have additional crisis services available in communities across the nation, much the way emergency medical services work.”

Ozark Center received a 988 State Planning Grant through Vibrant Emotional Health, the non-profit administrator of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Those funds enabled Ozark Center Crisis Services to add staff, equipment and furnishings to accommodate the anticipated increase in calls for help.

“Our community members have known for many years that they can call 911 during a crisis for help from first responders or police,” said Debbie Fitzgerald, Ozark Center Director of Crisis Services. “Sometimes these crisis situations involve individuals struggling with behavioral health needs. Now, anyone can call 988 directly from their cell phone to reach a trained crisis specialist at any time. With workforce shortages nationwide and particularly within law enforcement, this will help our community be safer, and provide responses and interventions for those requiring emotional support.”

The current toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, 800.273.8255 (TALK) will remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, even after 988 is launched nationally. 988 will be the new three-digit number for call (multiple languages), text or chat (English only) that connects people to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which has helped thousands of people overcome suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress since it began in 2005. With the transition to 988, these life-saving services will be even easier to reach.

Ozark Center also operates other crisis lines for those in distress including a local number for Joplin 417.347.7720 or toll free at 800.247.0661 and both will remain active.

About Freeman Health System:

Locally owned, not-for-profit and nationally recognized, Freeman Health System includes Freeman Hospital West, Freeman Hospital East, Freeman Neosho Hospital and Ozark Center – the area’s largest provider of behavioral health services – as well as two urgent care clinics, dozens of physician clinics and a variety of specialty services. In 2020, Freeman earned dozens of individual awards for medical excellence and patient safety from CareChex®, a quality rating system that helps consumers evaluate healthcare providers. U.S. News & World Report named Freeman Health System the Best Hospital in Southwest Missouri for 2020. With more than 320 physicians on staff representing more than 80 specialties, Freeman provides cancer care, heart care, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, children’s services and women’s services. Additionally, Freeman is the only Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in a 70-mile radius. For more information, visit freemanhealth.com.


Lisa Olliges, Media Specialist
Freeman Health System