Washington state

Caller complains suicide hot line put her on hold

SEATTLE - A crisis counselor who called a suicide hot line says she was placed on hold before she had an opportunity to explain why she was calling.

"I had a client in an emergency situation, and I wanted to confer with a clinical supervisor. Whoever answered the phone didn't wait to hear that, or if I was suicidal," said Karen Wyome, a medical social worker for Swedish Family Medicine.

Wyome said Seattle's Crisis Clinic, which oversees the hot line, has placed her on hold twice in the past six months.

Another counselor, who declined to give her name, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that one of her clients who called the hot line was immediately asked to wait.

'What if it was?'

The counselor said it was a non-emergency call. "But what if it was?" she asked.

Don Kuch, clinical supervisor for the Crisis Clinic, said he was shocked to hear callers had been put on hold and couldn't imagine why anyone on his staff would do so without first confirming the call was a non-emergency.

The crisis line receives about 250 calls a day. About five trained volunteers work the lines during the day. Two to three field calls at night.

About one in 10 callers is someone threatening suicide.

Seattle decided in September to install suicide hot line phones on the Aurora Avenue Bridge, from which an average of four people a year jump to their deaths.

The city opted not to install physical barriers, such as a net, saying it would likely inhibit bridge inspection.

City officials and suicide-prevention experts say they hope a final opportunity with a dissuading voice will turn jumpers away.

The phones are expected to be up and running in early December.

Authorities in San Francisco have said hot line phones on the Golden Gate Bridge helped stop some people from jumping from the span.