Despite State Funding, Chicago Mental Health Crisis Center Fails To Answer The Calls

Chicago News

CHICAGO (CBS) — Critical calls are going unanswered.

Children and adults in need can’t get through to a major mental health service provider at night.

The crisis line has been defunct for weeks, and CBS 2’s Lauren Victory reports this is yet another problem affecting the 7,000 clients of Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, known as C-4.

It’s a tall task that the organization has lived up to for decades.

C-4’s social workers are responsible for the care of thousands of people with mental health needs.

But, for weeks, the organization has broken its promise to kids and adults in crisis. Nobody is answering calls about mental health services between 8 p.m. and 8:30 a.m.

Jessica Larsen was often the therapist on the other end of the line during that time. It’s a line that rang often.

“It’s supposed to go to the answering service,” Larsen said. “The answering service then takes the message and routes that to the on-call supervisor.”

Larsen said she has handled as many as 10 people a night, many of them who are suicidal.

“I’ve definitely had people where I’ve had to, on my work phone be talking to them, muting the conversation so that i can pick up my personal cell phone and call 911 to get someone to their house immediately before they end their life.”

Larsen quit C-4 last month but continued to raise the alarm.

CBS 2 checked the crisis line number time after time after time during the night.

The result was always the same, a recorded message that said: “For all non-emergencies, please call back during normal business hours.”

Despite not answering its crisis line for 12 hours a day, the C-4 Facebook page urges clients to call 24/7.

C-4 is not only failing those in need, it’s failing the taxpaying public, too.

C-4 receives more than half a million dollars in state money for crisis staffing, that should include a “crisis line.”

CBS 2 reported the problem to the Department of Human Services which investigated and confirmed a violation but won’t pull funding for now.

“Unless you’re calling a supervisor’s cell phone, you’re not getting anybody,” Larsen said.

C-4 admitted to DHS that its 24 hour number was down for two weeks.

However an email from C-4’s director of crisis services sent almost six weeks ago said, “Until further notice, we do not have an answering service.”

C-4’s CEO Chris Carroll would not answer my specific questions about when or why the crisis line went out of service. He said he’s working to get it back up and running.

He added that C-4 will be changing its voicemail to include a crisis worker’s cell phone number.

Meantime, after previous reports, the Illinois attorney general office opened an inquiry about C-4’s financials. That inquiry is now upgraded to an investigation. Earlier, CBS 2 reported problems with workers pay checks and health benefits.  Workers this week told us their health care coverage is now working.

Here is the full statement from C-4:

The C4 answering service went off line not our adult crisis services. There has been a machine answering the main line after hours and weekends. The answering service is not part of the crisis grant specifically. DMH is aware that the current phone machine message tells off hour callers that if they are in a crisis, they should call 911 or go the nearest hospital. It is not best practice to ask a caller in crisis to leave a voice mail. This is because no one will be physically in the building to listen to messages until the next business day. DMH did ask for the message to be changed to give the caller a cell phone number of a crisis worker, until the live answering service can be brought on line. We are working on this request. Calls between DMH, myself, and other executive staff at C4 were done and they explained that they were conducting due diligence after a report of service interruption. It was clarified that all crisis services are in place and the current answering service problem does not rise to the level of a violation of the contract.

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