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Help hotline hopes early problems solved

The local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association is apologizing to the community for issues with its Here 24/7 hotline for addictions, mental health and crisis services.
“Some callers to our phone number have faced long waits, leading around 25 per cent to hang up before speaking with one of our service co-ordinators,” said an open letter to the community from Here 24/7 director Helen Fishburn.
The phone line, which was meant to offer a single point of access for referrals to addictions and mental health services, launched on April 1. When the service was created, the expectation was that it would receive around 80 calls and walk-ins per day.
“Instead, we’ve consistently had around 400 people contacting us each weekday,” the letter said.
“We knew that a simpler system would lead more people to call us for help. We had no way of predicting this heavy demand. Simply put, we’re overwhelmed by the volumes,” it said.
During the month of April the hotline received 7,049 calls, but only 5,285 were answered, it said.
Nearly 30 per cent of the calls have involved either a moderate risk of harm to self or others, or a high risk escalating to imminent danger. The system prioritizes these calls, which makes it more difficult to respond to others in a timely manner, the letter said. At the same time, service co-ordinators are also responding to faxed referrals and walk-ins at sites in Guelph, Kitchener, Cambridge and Fergus.
In the letter, Fishburn apologizes to anyone who was kept waiting when reaching out for help. “We hope that you will be patient with us as we work out the bugs,” she said.
The organization is recruiting additional staff to help with the high demand, and has been meeting to make improvements to the process, the letter said. “We’ve seen first-hand the difference it makes for people’s lives when Here 24/7 runs smoothly,” it said. “We have also had excellent feedback from the folks that we have been able to connect with and meet their needs.”

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