Surprises: Reporting uncovers crisis hotline problems

Give Washington County Behavioral Health Board executive director David Browne credit, he didn’t know what he didn’t know, but now that he has been made aware, he intends to do something about it.

Last week, a local reporter responded to suggestions from members of the community — presented during three Your Voice MOV forums on the opioid crisis — that calling crisis hotlines does not deliver the seamless, quick, helpful experience many officials might have believed. The reporter for The Marietta Times called both the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and United Way 211 … and reached the same person. That person identified herself as Rose.

“That’s weird that you got the same person for both phone numbers,” Browne said. Surprise number one.

Then, in offering guidance about drop-in centers in the area, Rose listed the House of Hope, on County House Lane, Marietta. Surprise number two.

Browne said that information is not accurate, calling the House of Hope “a drop-in center during the daytime but more for those with mental illness to socialize and have a support system.”

Importantly, however, Browne added, “I’ll have to call and talk with them about that. That’s not a crisis center.”

Surprise number three, for the reporter, anyway, was in trying to reach 211 from a landline. It does not work. Rose explained the number to be called from a landline is 740-345-HELP (4357).

In addition, Rose said part of her job is to also act as the after-hours answering service for L&P Services in Marietta, a mental health services and drug addiction treatment center. Imagine that. Calls for help to three different resources are all funneled to a single location, where the folks on the other end of the line are also handling questions about financial assistance and other resources available to those in need.

In fact, Rose did an excellent job walking the reporter through the process, according to Browne — perhaps she will be able to do even a better one once he clears up a few inaccuracies. But in declaring he was happy with the job she had done, Browne said “We don’t have a lot of money to be able to pay for 24/7 staff here so you take what you can get.”

Surprise number four, perhaps, for other officials and members of the communities — on both sides of the river — who are laboring under the misconception that there is money pouring in to help fight the substance abuse crisis; and that everyone involved is in good communication, well-organized and on the same page.

A person in crisis — particularly one who has reached that fragile moment of asking for help — cannot afford to be put on hold, get the runaround or worse, get bad information. And it might be true, most people who have the luxury of being relatively removed from this crisis had no idea that was happening. Thanks to a few brave folks who chose to use their voices last month, now we know.