Metro Crisis line will hang up receiver

From The Oregonian, December 6, 1996 – not elsewhere online

For 18 years, Metro Crisis Line workers have helped the depressed, the suicidal, the sleepless. But money problems will force the state’s largest and oldest crisis line to close in mid-January, and a new crisis line will take its place.

The Metro Crisis Line relied on a Multnomah County contract to pay most of its $500,000 yearly costs. But the county has pulled the financing and instead will pay for a new crisis line and mental health crisis center.

The new center will offer not only a telephone crisis line but also face-to-face help, psychiatric evaluations and a temporary shelter in Northeast Portland. The new crisis line, which will be run through the Providence Health System, will be able to offer any crisis counseling, from suicide to insomnia, said Jennifer Hof, office coordinator for the new Crisis Triage Center .

Multnomah County decided two years ago that it wanted to consolidate its mental health contracts and pay for a single comprehensive mental health crisis center, said Floyd Martinez, director of behavioral health for the county’s Department of Community and Family Services. Part of the new center includes the new crisis line.

After reviewing several bids, the county awarded the contract to Providence to provide the crisis center and line this spring, and then decided it no longer needed to contract with the Metro Crisis Line.

The center and crisis line will be supported by $270,000 in county money, Martinez said. Most of the rest of the center’s $3 million budget will come from state and federal Medicaid money, he said.

“The new crisis line will be much better, much more comprehensive,” Martinez said. “They have people to help them if they need to talk in person. It’s far superior than what we had been using.”

Laura Jeibmann, executive director of the Metro Crisis Line, said that without the $306,000 county contract, it would be impossible to keep the line open. The line is run through Metro Crisis Services, a group that also operates an information and referral line for United Way, a crisis line for Clark County and ProtoCall, an after-hours crisis line for clinics and employee assistance programs. The service also is paid for by United Way, Clark County, ProtoCall and a community action program.

The Metro Crisis Line phone number, posted on bridges as a suicide help line and in phone books throughout Portland, often is referred to on the answering machines of mental health workers for a place people in crisis may turn to for help after hours.

Last year, 83,265 people — mostly from Multnomah County — called the Metro Crisis Line for help with problems ranging from anxiety to sexual harassment.

Jeibmann hopes that the Crisis Triage Center will be able to help as many people as the Metro Crisis Line has through the years.

“Our community turns to us as a central number when they believe they are experiencing a crisis,” Jeibmann said. “With that gone, what will the community do?”

She said the line plans to send letters to social workers and psychologists in the area to alert them of the closure and to see whether anyone will step up to offer new services.

Jeibmann said she worried that the new line would not assume Metro Crisis Line’s number. Hof said the new crisis line number would be announced when it gets closer to opening.

The Metro Crisis Line will close at midnight Jan. 13, the same day the Triage Center at the Providence Medical Center in Northeast Portland is scheduled to open. Martinez, as well as Providence officials, are confident that their line will be there to answer serious as well as less serious problems or concerns. The center’s crisis line will be staffed by trained therapists 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Martinez said that although the crisis line is for Multnomah County residents, callers from other parts of the state will not be turned away.

“We understand that a crisis line is a crisis line, and we will try to handle all crises,” Martinez said. “But we will try to hook them up with crisis services in their own community if we can.”

Metro Crisis Line opened in 1978, and since then, the number of calls has tripled. The line is staffed by 194 volunteers who are supervised by mental health professionals. Jeibmann said Mental Health Services will lay off staff members, but she isn’t sure how many.

Five years ago Metro Crisis Services formed a group called ProtoCall, which is a for-profit answering service. Jeibmann had hoped that ProtoCall would be able to make enough money to pay the Crisis Line, but last year was only able to help pay $57,000 of the crisis line’s budget.

ProtoCall will stay open. Metro Crisis Services will continue to provide a crisis line to Clark County, which operated under a different phone number, and still will serve as a referral and information line for the United Way.