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County, state gear up for better suicide prevention crisis line

Minnesota is changing how it handles mental health crisis calls by upping the number of people it can serve and making it easier to do so — in Carver County and beyond.

Four suicide prevention call centers are now running in the state: the Greater Twin Cities United Way for metro callers; First Call for Help in northern and central areas; and First Link in northwest Minnesota.

The fourth, run by the Carver County Mental Health Crisis Program, launched in November. Thanks to a recent $620,000 grant from Vibrant Emotional Health, the center will be able to handle an expected uptick in calls by hiring more staff and upgrading buildings. The grant is spread out over five years.

And efforts aren’t stopping there.

Though still over a year away, the county will change its suicide lifeline number from 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to a simpler, three-digit 988 in July 2022. It’s part of a nationwide switch to come next summer.


The 988 number will be easier for people to remember during a crisis.

Until that number is put in place, people will still need to call 1-800-273-TALK in a crisis. But thanks to the four new call centers, phones will be streamlined.

That means callers will be routed to one of four Minnesota centers, depending on where they dial from. It lessens transferring to out-of-state centers.

That’s an important detail to Derek Gunderson, chair at the Carver County Mental Health Local Advisory Council (LAC) and Victoria City Council member.

“Why is someone in crisis in Carver County calling out to Nebraska and then Nebraska reaching back out to the Carver County Sheriff’s Office for support if it’s needed?” he said. “To me, that makes no sense.”

People throughout Minnesota can call 1-800-273-TALK and be connected to someone at the nearest facility.

Gunderson said Minnesota’s been without a national suicide prevention lifeline since the spring of 2018 when it shut down due to lack of funding. Locals in crisis relied on places like the Carver County crisis team, which only served Carver and McLeod counties. Now, it serves 19 (Scott County residents will be routed to the Greater Twin Cities United Way line.)

“We pretty much have everything going west to the South Dakota border, about halfway up the state,” Gunderson said.

He said the center could no longer handle the amount of calls coming in.

“They realized they couldn’t just have one call center. (This) is a much more robust structure. You’ve got four locations handling over five million people,” Gunderson said. “The volume of calls just isn’t there for one call center to handle anymore.”

The Carver County Mental Health Crisis Team’s number, 952-442-7601, will still be active for a number of years, said Stephanie Crombey, behavioral health clinical services manager with First Street Center in Waconia.


People might call a suicide prevention lifeline for many reasons. Depression. Isolation. Suicidal ideation or plans. Confusion around their thoughts.

Chanhassen resident Jodi Raleigh knows the benefit of having a local call line.

The 52-year-old has volunteer experience with the call center at Love INC, a religious organization helping people with various mental health and physical health concerns.

She also has depression and is a survivor of a suicide attempt in 2012.

“I think it would be helpful if someone calls in, once you get into that threat of suicide or a suicide plan, sometimes just connecting someone where they need to be … is important,” Raleigh said.

She’s had bad experiences with call centers not meeting her needs, she said. People didn’t always seem properly trained.

But thanks to the new grant, Crombey said all staff will be social workers with a bachelor’s degree or licensed mental health professionals.

“We’re gonna be taking the phone calls and working with community partners that serve those counties,” Crombey said.


Gunderson said that’s important because people might be calling with other concerns like drug abuse, relationship issues, or other stressful life events that build up.

Talking about these things, even just to a call center worker, could help ease the stigma around mental health.

“I struggle with it and it has affected my life in profound ways,” Gunderson said.

Two of his friends have died by suicide. It’s part of why his message remains so personally urgent.

“Right now, you might not see a way out of whatever predicament or situation or thought process you’re in, but there’s a way out,” he said, positively. “There’s always a way out.”

Raleigh agrees.

She said making a call in a time of need can not only help people, but shows strength.

“It’s really important to feel in control when you have a mental health diagnosis,” Raleigh said.

Years ago, she was in a crisis, but had not yet been diagnosed with depression. She called her employer’s assistance line and was “the best experience” she’d had — being connected to a registered nurse and finally healing.

“Don’t feel like you are not in control even if you are in a crisis. Be in control,” she said. “That’s really why I think this call center is important, because it can help connect networks.”

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Spring cleaning? Here’s how to rid yourself of stuff — safely

Whether residents are rotating out seasonal items or purging a basement, an annual spring cleaning is a good time to reevaluate what’s taking up extra space in a home.

But after creating a pile of stuff, it’s not as easy as throwing everything in the trash. Those cleaners under the kitchen sink might do more harm than good in the dumpster, and garbage haulers often won’t accept large appliances or electronics.

That’s where local waste facilities comes in.

Agencies like the Carver County Environmental Center in Chaska, and the Scott County Household Hazardous Waste Facility in Jordan are the places to go for residents unsure how to dispose of items properly. Carver County alone receives millions of pounds of materials a year, including 300 tons of household hazardous waste.

What in a typical household constitutes hazardous material?

More than you’d think, said Bill Fouks, Carver County Environmental Center supervisor. From drain cleaners to aerosol cans, common household items cause a lot of harm to the environment if not properly disposed of. Chemicals safe for countertops can create a toxic mix in landfills and waste centers, harming people processing items and the land where the products end up, he added.

But don’t just think small. Both Carver County and the Scott County Household Hazardous Waste Facility, which also serves surrounding counties like Carver and Washington, also accept “problem materials," like appliances, electronics and tires — things garbage haulers won’t pick up and thrift stores can’t accept.

“We’re really a collection point: the first-stop drop for folks who can’t get rid of things through garbage collection,” Fouks said.

Once the materials are sorted by employees into subcategories, Carver County ships them out for disposal at waste sites around the country, which safely dispose of trash using methods like neutralizing acids and bases, or incinerating at waste-to-energy plants.

Larger items like refrigerators and televisions are sent to other recycling centers. (One of the most common materials is cardboard, because of the increase in online shopping, Fouks said, but bringing it to the center isn’t necessary — most garbage haulers pick up cardboard and will provide a recycling bin free of charge if requested, he said.)

Pre-COVID, some household products in good condition screened by staff also went to the Reuse Room in the Environmental Center, where residents could check out hundreds of products and take what they needed, free of charge. 

If a resident has hazardous materials, or needs to dispose of a large item, see if you need an appointment (Scott County, yes; Carver County, no).

Then, here’s what to do:

1. If applicable, check the label for warnings like flammable, corrosive, ignitable and reactive material. It’s the easiest way to tell if the chemical needs proper disposal. The facilities accept “legacy waste," so bring everything in, no matter how old. If it’s a larger item, make sure the facility accepts it (For example, Carver County takes mattresses, but Scott County doesn’t).

2. Assess potential fees. All household hazardous waste is free to drop off in Scott and Carver counties, but appliances, mattresses (if accepted) and televisions cost $10 to $35. Scott County only accepts cash, Carver County takes cash and cards. 

3. Load up your car properly; separate by category; avoid plastic bags; and secure the containers. There have been many instances where a trunk is opened, only to find everything has spilled and mixed together, Fouks said.

Categorizing products in boxes or totes you don’t want back is ideal. Remember to bring someone to help unload heavy items.


Here’s an overview of what each center accepts. 

Scott County

Free: Bicycles, cardboard, small electronics, fuels and solvents, household hazardous waste (automotive, pool, yard and household chemicals, pesticides, aerosol cans) paint, plastic bags, some scrap metals, sharps (in a proper container), shredded paper.

With a fee: Appliances, large electronics, some scrap metals, tires.

Not accepted: Asbestos, carpet, furniture, glass, mattresses, medical waste and medications, porcelain toilets and sinks, window glass, brush and yard waste.

Carver County

Free: Batteries, cardboard, some electronics, fuels and solvents, household hazardous waste (automotive, pool, yard and household chemicals, pesticides, aerosol cans), paint, plastic bags, some scrap metal, sharps (in a proper container).

With a fee: Appliances, bicycles, some electronics, mattresses, tires.

Not accepted: Carpet, ceramics, furniture, medical waste and medications, shredded paper, styrofoam, trash, window glass, brush and yard waste.