For 44 years, Crisis Line of Will and Grundy Counties has provided “non-directive, non-judgmental telephone counseling” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
That will end for good on Nov. 30 – right at a time when residents in Will and Grundy counties need it the most.
On Thursday, United Way of Will County said Crisis Line decided to close due to years of financial hardship, declining revenues and resources, and resulting logistical challenges.
“We were very sad to make this decision,” Crisis Line Executive Director Michele Batara said in the news release. “Unfortunately, we cannot continue to operate with the resources we have available now,” she said.
United Way Interim CEO and President Sarah Oprzedek said the decision to close the doors of Crisis Line was a difficult one for Batara and her board of directors. Batara has served the agency in some capacity for nearly 20 years, Oprzedek said.
“Michele Batara has a heart of gold and people probably don’t even realize that many times she was often the person answering the line over at Crisis line,” Oprzedek said. “If someone called, she did everything she possibly could ... She gave it her all.”
In a 2015 Herald-News story, Batara said the Crisis Line could take 10 to 35 calls an hour, with one volunteer online at a time.
Crisis Line had 48 four-hours shifts a week that needed to be filled. Each volunteer is trained for approximately 36 hours and is asked to take one shift per week, according to the 2015 story.
Keeping those volunteer slots filled “was a significant struggle for her,” Oprzedek said – and that before COVID.
“If it was beautiful day, there would be staffing issues,” Oprzedek said. “If it was a bad weather day, there could be staffing issues.”
Complicating the matter was the fact that volunteers couldn’t just “sign-up to help,” sign up and then go “on the line.”
“It required extensive training to be able to take those phone calls,” Oprzedek said. “There were core programs crisis line provided, not just information, It was a referral call center for the National suicide Prevention Hotline. Individuals would be calling during their deepest and darkest time and Crisis Line would be there to pick up the phone and help them through it.”
But Crisis Line also provided counseling in the moment.
“We have a significant mental health provider shortage in Will County,” Oprzedek said, adding that Crisis Line helped fill that gap. “If your insurance prevented you, or you didn't fit the sliding scale, or you tried to get an appointment and it was too far out, you could pick up the phone day or night any day of the week and someone would talk to you today about whatever was weighing on you or pulling at your heart.”
Crisis Line also received help from the Will County COVID-19 Response Fund, a partnership between the United Way of Will County and the Community Foundation of Will County, Oprzedek said.
“Michele did reach out early on,” Oprzedek said. “We funded her so she could actually hire additional hep.”
Crisis Line also relied heavily on master of social work internships for staffing, Oprzedek said.
“So when we had sheltering in place, this created a shortage of interns,” Oprzedek said. “Not all of them were able to fulfill their internships out of safety concerns and that [also] created a shortage for her.”
Those seeking social service assistance and information and referral to community-based services, can still visit willfinduhelp.org for community resources, United Way said.
In addition, anyone needing 24/7 emotional and mental health support, and/or suicide prevention and intervention, should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
The United Way of Will County will also lead a coordinated initiative to establish a locally curated social services and information network, commonly referred to as “2-1-1.”
Oprzedek said United Way Partners and community-based service providers are committing support and assistance to fill the void left by Crisis Line.