Mark Gordon FILE

Gov. Mark Gordon gives a press conference on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, in his office at the Jonah Business Center in Cheyenne. Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – After rejecting an initial request to fund an in-state call center for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in his budget proposal, Gov. Mark Gordon changed course this week and recommended $400,000 in ongoing general funds for the project.

With the second-highest suicide rate in the country, Wyoming is the only state that lacks a local call center for the national suicide hotline.

Without the call center, Wyomingites can still reach the national hotline by calling 800-273-8255. But there are major downsides that come when a state doesn’t have its own operators.

During a Joint Appropriations Committee meeting last month, officials from the state Department of Health told state lawmakers that the lack of an in-state center leads to longer wait times for callers, and conversations with people who are unfamiliar with the resources and providers available in Wyoming.

Initially, the Department of Health requested roughly $1 million in general funds to set up the call center, and Gordon denied the request in his budget proposal, released in November. But in a letter submitted to the Joint Appropriations Committee this week, Gordon recommended $400,000 in ongoing funds to stand up the call center.

“I have it on good authority this refined figure more accurately represents the actual costs of a program designed and operated here in Wyoming,” Gordon wrote in the letter. “I continue to recognize the need to support individuals in Wyoming with suicidal ideation.”

Michael Pearlman, a spokesman for the governor, wrote in an email that if the Legislature approves the funding, the next step would be for the Department of Health to issue a request for proposals to find an in-state vendor to operate the center.

In December, Department of Health Deputy Director Stefan Johannson told lawmakers that several providers have already expressed interest in operating the call center.

The request to fund the call center was one of several proposals submitted in letters from Gordon to the Joint Appropriations Committee this week. Among the other requests were $25 million for an energy commercialization program to explore carbon-capture and other technologies; $1 million for a coal marketing program; and $20.7 million for employee compensation.

Gordon also recommended lawmakers consider funding renovations to the University of Wyoming’s main facility for its College of Law – a roughly $12 million ask.

State lawmakers will ultimately decide whether to approve funding for the call center and the governor’s other requests during their upcoming budget session, which begins Feb. 10.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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