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Concern Hotline: Answering the Call 24/7

Concern Hotline: Answering the Call 24/7

Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call to save a life. That’s why Concern Hotline is such a valuable resource in our community.

Founded by a small group of people who were concerned about the high suicide rate in our region, Concern Hotline answered its first phone call in 1969. “When Concern Hotline was originally developed, the two goals were to serve as a connection to life and a connection to community by offering information and referral services,” says Executive Director Rusty Holland. “In looking at numbers, I’d say we’ve answered close to a million phone calls since the first one in 1969.”

Like Valley Health, Concern Hotline is accessible 24-hours a day, and serves those in crisis. Because of the lifesaving work of its volunteers, Valley Health has supported the organization with grant funding for many years, most recently with a Community Health Impact Grant. These grants, totaling over $3.2 million (2020-2022), directly benefit non-profit organizations serving the northern Shenandoah Valley and surrounding region.

Holland says they receive calls from across the world, not only Virginia and West Virginia, thanks to the internet. For callers who live locally, Concern Hotline volunteers help them develop a safety plan that may include outreach to Valley Health Behavioral Health Services or other local resources.

“And the money that we get from Valley Health helps us pay our monthly phone bill, and helps us keep the phones ringing, as well as funding training for our compassionate listeners,” Holland adds.

Training for volunteers includes ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Training) and SafeTalk. Concern Hotline has around 40 volunteer listeners ready to take a range of calls. Some callers are contemplating suicide, while others are going through a life crisis and need someone to talk to.

“We call ourselves compassionate listeners, because we feel we’re offering a compassionate connection to another human being. We’ve trained our listeners specifically in the skills of our original mission; suicide prevention and intervention. For the past 50 years, our compassionate listeners have given their time freely to be there for hundreds of thousands of people who can access our number 24/7.”

“We’ve carried some people through crisis on the phone that started off being scared to death,” says Holland. “Now, they call us regularly and use us as a sounding board to release their stress and anxiety. People realize the value of compassionate, human connection.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has added extra strain on the hotline and its volunteers, but Holland says his team is pushing through it. They have been looking for new ways to encourage one another and fundraise through the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has created what we call the perfect storm. Fundraising, including our annual Friday Fish Fry, and training have gone away. Stress on our listeners has increased dramatically because they are going through some of the same things callers are. Being empathetic with people who are going through the same thing you are continuously has been leading to a lot of listener fatigue.” Holland noted they are always looking for those with a caring spirit and good listening skills to answer the phone lines.

Valley Health is honored to partner with organizations such as Concern Hotline across our service area as we look for ways to impact our community beyond our hospital walls. In addition to financial contributions to these groups, Valley Health employees can be found at health fairs, county fairs, schools, and parks. We perform screenings, host youth education, and sponsor support groups.

We’re proud of the work of Concern Hotline’s dedicated volunteers and leadership! To learn more about Concern Hotline, including their local phone numbers, visit their website!