An IWF partnership expands vital mental health services in the St. Louis region

As he drove down the exit ramp, the man considered how easy it’d be to drive off the side. A quick, fatal car accident, and the pain would end. It wasn’t the first time the idea crossed his mind. His fingers tightened on the steering wheel. He slowed to a stop at the ramp’s end. Sitting at the stoplight, a bus idling nearby displayed a number – 1-800-273-TALK – the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Eyes stinging with tears, he sighed and dialed the number. His call was routed to a local crisis center – staffed by Provident Counseling. Within the hour, the man walked into their clinic for an in-person session and began his journey back from despair.

With Incarnate Word Foundation’s help, Provident Counseling has deepened and expanded their ability to serve people like him. The whole process, you might say, has been providential.

IWF’s Future Funds Development Grant was “timely, and wonderful!” said Kevin Drollinger, Executive Director of Provident Counseling. The funding changed the trajectory of their Crisis Hotline System through strategic market assessments, planning, and legislative advocacy. “By increasing our staff and community awareness efforts, we were poised to respond when the pandemic struck and the needs for mental health services increased exponentially.”

Central to this expansion was IWF’s collaborative partnership with Provident Counseling. “They invited us to have a conversation about the services that would have the greatest community impact. Mike [Fitzgerald] and Bridget [Flood] want to invest in ideas,” said Kevin. This conversation laid the groundwork to think strategically about improving the Crisis Hotline’s reach and impact. “IWF’s investment has had a huge impact, but it’s not just about the money. It’s about how they partner with the gifts and graces of those they work with” to innovate and expand services, said Kevin.

In 2020, Provident Counseling worked with legislators to pass the 988 Call Law. A bipartisan effort, the new law establishes a mental health crisis line like the “911” hotline. “When people are under stress, said Kevin, “they’ll have an easier time remembering 988″ than the current 10-digit hotline number. “Missouri is the only state in the nation thus far to have an in-state backup system before routing to the national backup system,” explained Kevin, “and Provident will serve both as Missouri backup and a national backup center as well.” Through a relatively modest investment in their Crisis Hotline, made possible through partnership with the Incarnate Word Foundation, Provident Counseling is now a main contributor to “a once in a generation change in the mental health system for the better,” said Kevin. The 988 Call Law will be fully implemented by July 2022.

Today, the IWF/Provident Counseling partnership continues, with additional funding provided to sustain their Crisis Hotline service at a time when many similar agencies are struggling to stay afloat. “The number of people contacting the call center went through the roof,” said Kevin, during the pandemic and the concurrent economic stress and environmental disasters. Provident Counseling is part of the Missouri State mental health care system that provides backup to the national hotline. And that’s just how the man in the car found his way to help.

So, how did calling a national hotline help a man driving on an exit ramp find his way to a counselor just down the road? The Hand of Providence, indeed.