“I think it’s really confusing,” says Trish Cortes, the county’s executive director of Community Mental Health, of the proliferation of emergency phone numbers locally. “It’s really hard to get these numbers recognized in our community”—and even more so “when they start having overlapping similar purposes.”

The county already has the standard 911 number for police and fire emergencies. Then there’s the United Way’s 211 number for social services. This summer, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 988 number will be activated locally. And last fiscal year alone, CMH responded to more than 35,000 calls to its own mental health number: (734) 544–3050.

“We’ve had a twenty-four-hour number for many years,” says Cortes, but volume tripled as they were able to expand services following approval of the 2017 mental health and public safety millage. They get the word out by including their number in all their brochures, advertisements, and articles.

Though the suicide prevention line will have its own number, every 988 call will be routed through the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department’s Metro-Dispatch. “We’ll take the call,” says sheriff Jerry Clayton, “and triage it the way we need to—there’s very little delay. [Operators] do one-button transfers now—EMS or fire [or the] CMH crisis line.”

“I wouldn’t say necessarily that we need 988,” says Cortes. “But that number’s going to essentially come right to our phone number. All it does is really help us respond locally.”

The Coalition for Re-envisioning Our Safety, which is lobbying to manage the city’s planned unarmed safety response team, also wants its own phone number—and even its own dispatchers, to avoid any connection to law enforcement. Cortes questions the wisdom of that: “I just think it sounds really, really messy,” she says.

Though 988 calls will be passed on to existing providers, Ann Arbor police chief Mike Cox sees an upside to a separate number: “It is a good thing to give the public more options for [accessing] services,” he says. “I think that’s a tremendous idea and hopefully very helpful.”

Cox cautions, though, that “the issue is how well-publicized these numbers are, and what specific services do they provide, and do people understand that clearly? Because if they don’t understand it clearly, that leaves room for confusion.”