Samaritans on Cape Cod & Islands Welcomes Opportunity for Public Response
Submitted by Stephanie Kelly, Executive Director, Samaritans on Cape Cod & Islands
Date: September 26 ,2019
The September 20th Cape Cod Times article reporting unanswered calls coming into the Samaritans hotlines required and received immediate attention.
- Technical issues on the statewide line 877-870-4673 occurred during a period of time when we had a single volunteer assisting other callers. Volunteers avoid ending a current call abruptly to take another. That resulted in a longer than usual wait.
- According to Steve Mongeau, Executive Director of Samaritans, Inc. in Boston, who oversees the statewide line, the problem has been rectified.
- To the best of our knowledge, we have not received any complaints about being disconnected prior to last week. On our internal call lines, our policy was to let calls ring because callers told us they would rather hear a ring than a message. To avoid any possibility of disconnection or unnecessarily long waits, we have implemented a voice message that explains our volunteers are assisting others and encourages the caller to call back shortly. If in crisis, the message encourages the caller to contact 9-1-1.
- Sincere apologies if this temporary situation left the caller who contacted the Cape Cod Times or any other caller without a response.
We welcome this opportunity to provide the community with more context, not only about what Samaritans is and is not, but also about the challenges of volunteer recruitment.
The headline “Suicide calls go unanswered” implied that callers at imminent risk of suicide were left with no response.
- Our work is 99% “upstream”, meaning prevention rather than intervention. The majority of calls are from people in need of connection: isolated, lonely, and depressed. Our role is primarily befriending and providing a listening, empathetic ear.
- The number of calls from people at imminent risk is almost non-existent. Calls come through anonymously. Volunteers have no access to Caller ID. If a person were in immediate danger, our only recourse (and our policy) is to get permission from the caller to intervene on their behalf. Over the last five years – over 100,000 calls answered – this situation has occurred only twice.
We are very grateful for the recent calls from other local media outlets wanting to help spread the word to increase volunteer coverage of phone lines.
- We enjoy a very high coverage rate (98%) over three seasons and we face lower numbers when volunteers go away for the winter. Recruitment of more year round as well as seasonal volunteers is a key focus of ours.
- The primary challenge to volunteer recruitment for crisis line coverage is directly related to the misperceptions described above. Potential volunteers fear that they might at some point be responsible for someone’s life or death. That is not the case. We are not “rescuers or fixers.” We are not a mental health agency. We are not 911. What we ARE is a group of caring, compassionate, empathetic listeners and a friendly supportive voice.
The most important criteria for volunteers are caring, compassion, and empathy. Volunteers are fully vetted through background checks and supported through training and oversight by staff. Other criteria to determine an appropriate fit:
- Emotional readiness – survivors who want to be volunteers need time to process their grief and have enough separation so that attention is always on the caller’s immediate needs.
- Geography – volunteers work on site at our Falmouth location so the commute must be realistic for them to be accessible when coverage is needed.
We hope this information has been helpful, informative and reassuring. Thanks to our board members, donors, volunteers and staff who have made it possible to provide critically needed services with excellence for over 40 years.
There are other opportunities to volunteer at Samaritans apart from hotline coverage. Please see our website http://www.CapeSamaritans.org about other support and educational programs. For more information about volunteering or any of our other programs we offer for individuals and survivors, please call our business line 508-548-7999.
Stephanie Kelly is the Executive Director of Samaritans of Cape Cod and is a member of the Cape and Islands Suicide Prevention Coalition’s Steering Committee, the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention’s Executive Committee and the Governor’s Special Commission to Study the Prevention of Suicide Among Correction Officers in Massachusetts Correctional Facilities.