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Suicide hotline operator seeks liability protection


Suicide hotline operator seeks liability protection

Mar 18, 2024 | 6:22 pm ET
By Mary Steurer
Suicide hotline operator seeks liability protection
A North Dakota agency that operates a crisis hotline is seeking liability protection through the Legislature. (Photo illustration by bymuratdeniz / Getty Images)

A nonprofit that answers crisis calls in North Dakota is asking lawmakers for greater liability protections for its staff.

FirstLink administers the state’s 988 suicide hotline as well as its 211 helpline, which connects people in crisis with social services and other resources.

But North Dakota doesn’t have any laws shielding good-faith operators from liability when callers die by suicide, according to Jeremy Brown, FirstLink’s outreach director.

“FirstLink is here to start the conversation of having our state’s support in protecting our employees,” Brown told the Health Services Committee on Monday.

The idea for a liability protection law for suicide hotline workers was first put forward by Health Services Committee Chair Sen. Kristin Roers, R-Fargo, during the committee’s November meeting.

The committee reviewed a first draft of the proposed legislation on Monday.

Representatives of FirstLink that afternoon asked for the draft legislation to also cover 911 operators and the Department of Health and Human Services’ mobile crisis teams, since all three interact with callers seeking suicide and crisis intervention.

“I think having all three covered in the bill would be helpful to make sure that every part of that interaction is covered,” Ashley Ladbury Hrichena, FirstLink’s operations director, said during the meeting.

The Health Services Committee is expected to review an updated version of the draft bill at its next meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for September.

The proposed legislation is only meant to help call center workers who act in good faith and properly follow their training, Roers said — not those who endanger lives by defying it.

“If you were grossly negligent during this, this is not gonna cover you,” she said during the committee meeting.

So far, only two states — Washington and Kansas — have 988 service liability laws, Brown said.