Freeman News

Ozark Center Receives 988 State Planning Grant

February 18, 2021

Funds to Prepare for National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 988 Dialing Code

Joplin, MO – Ozark Center, an entity of Freeman Health System has received the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 988 State Planning Grant through Vibrant Emotional Health, the non-profit administrator of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

988 will become the national three-digit dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in July 2022 and will  replace the current hotline phone number.

“When an individual is in crisis, it is important that we make accessing support as easy as possible,” said Ozark Center Director of Crisis Services Debbie Fitzgerald. “We all know how dialing 911 has enabled people get help in emergencies. Now people will be able to reach out for help in a behavioral health emergency by simply dialing 988.”

Implementing the 988 calling system requires developing plans for coordination, capacity, funding and communications. Ozark Center will collaborate with state leadership, suicide prevention experts, people with lived experience (those with behavioral health challenges causing life changes), and others to create a 988 implementation plan and support Lifeline’s operational, clinic and performance standards that allow access to care.

“Ozark Center is very excited to be a part of the 988 Planning Grant that was awarded to the Missouri Department of Mental Health recently,” said Ozark Center Chief Administrative Officer Vicky Mieseler. “This is a wonderful opportunity to participate in creating a roadmap for how crisis services will operate in Missouri in the future!”

“Ozark Center is dedicated to responding to the behavioral health needs of our four-state region,” Fitzgerald said. “Once implemented, the new 988 number will ensure a behavioral health safety net by providing emotional support for people in distress, reducing suicides and mental health crises and providing a pathway to wellbeing for all.”

Currently there are 180 crisis centers linked to the Lifeline toll-free number (800.273.TALK), that answer the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Callers can dial this number anytime from anywhere in the United States and they will be routed to the nearest network center where helpers are trained to provide emotional support assessment, crisis intervention and/or linkages to necessary community resources.

Now former President Donald Trump signed the law designating 988 as the universal number for the nationwide hotline on October 17, 2020. The bill authorized states to levy a fee on wireless services that would be used for 988 expenses, ensuring that crisis centers will be able to support increased volume. The Federal Communication Commission estimated that the implementation costs would be $570 million in year one and $175 million in year two.

“Access to mental health and crisis support has never been more critical for Americans,” said Kimberly Williams, President and CEO of Vibrant Emotional Health. “Vibrant is committed to providing the states and territories with some of the resources they’ll need to plan for the implementation of 988 and to support their local crisis centers. By working together, we can increase access to care, reduce the stigma around behavioral health and ultimately, save lives.”

“As a crisis center affiliated with Lifeline, Ozark Center staff receive calls from individuals in our service area who seek anonymity by calling the national talk line,” Fitzgerald said. “Our staff also participate in Lifeline trainings and webinars, track the numbers of calls received or rerouted, and implement a Lifeline approved suicide risk assessment.”

Media: Interviews with Ozark Center Director of Crisis Services Debbie Fitzgerald are available Friday between 10:30 am and 1:00 pm by contacting Lisa Olliges at 417.434.3458.



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 2020-2021. 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



About Ozark Center

Ozark Center is based in Joplin, Missouri and has been an entity of Freeman Health System since 1996. It has been providing comprehensive behavioral health services to children, adults, and families since 1965 in an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from the Four States. Ozark Center continually looks for innovative ways to address the behavioral health needs of the community and promote awareness of behavioral health issues in an effort to eliminate the discrimination associated with it. For more information, visit or call 417.347.7600.