50 Stories Part 32: Social Returns on Investment – Distress Centre in the 2000s
Image: Volunteers in 2006.
In the early 2000s, a new vision statement was crafted for Distress Centre:
“To be the primary information, referral and crisis service provider in our community – a model for other communities to emulate. Our approach will honour and respect the human potential of those who serve and those who are served.”
Human resources became a dedicated department. Programs, resources and events were on the new website, distresscentre.com, the same site used today. Continuing with their addictions work, AADAC funded a smoking cessation pilot which quickly had a wait list for 6 more groups.
''To be the primary information, referral and crisis service provider in our community – a model for other communities to emulate. Our approach will honour and respect the human potential of those who serve and those who are served.'' Distress Centre's vision statement in the 2000s
Response partnerships were created with Calgary Mental Health Mobile Response Team (MRT), Child and Family Services Social Services Response Team (SSRT), Woods Homes Community Response Team (CRT), 911, Calgary Police Service Victim’s Assistance and many other groups. The increase in calls and funding from the partnerships finally made possible the computerization of the phone room.
Deep Blue, a consulting agency, was hired by the Board to complete a review and look to the future:
“Our overall view is Distress Centre should become the single point of entry for crisis calls in Calgary, with crisis counselling and public education filling important but ancillary supporting roles. As the single access point for crisis calls, Distress Centre would continue to be the expert in crisis call management and triage, with appropriate referral or patching to other services when necessary. This service would be provided by trained volunteers, supported by health professionals.”
Heather Innes, a supporter and user of Distress Centre speaks to her involvement:
“I first heard about DC when I was volunteering with the United Way, a major funder of Distress Centre. I was running a bank employee fundraising campaign in 2004. We had a speaker come in to talk about Distress Centre and all of their services.
“My second experience was actually using their services. I was about 25 and really struggling in terms of remembering a lot of the trauma I had experienced as a child. I had a home, a good job, but I was living paycheck to paycheck trying to pay off my student loans. I was contemplating ending my life. I went into my bathroom and looked through my medicine cabinet. I remembered the speaker from Distress Centre and I thought, before you do anything stupid, you better call and see if someone can help.
“I got an appointment the next day. I sat down with the counsellor, and that truly changed my life. I remember sitting in one of the little rooms, off to the side, with a big box of Kleenex, and I poured my heart out. She said, ‘You know Heather, you are able to forgive other people for what has happened to you, how can you not forgive yourself?’ And those words have always stuck with me. It made me think about being gentler to myself, taking better care of myself. The sessions were free, accessible and someone really listened to me.”
''I sat down with the counsellor, and that truly changed my life. I remember sitting in one of the little rooms, off to the side, with a big box of Kleenex, and I poured my heart out.'' - Heather Innes
In 2006, the provincial Family Violence Line was turned over to Distress Centre, in partnership with Alberta Children’s Services. It serves callers who witness or know someone who was experiencing domestic abuse. A dedicated suicide crisis line was planned, to tie in with a national line, and an Emergency Operations Plan in partnership with United Way and the City of Calgary was developed to ensure a coordinated community response in case of a city wide disaster.
Social Return on Investment
In 2007, the first Social Return on Investment (SROI) Case Study was carried out by Centre Point Consulting, for all crisis lines funded by FCSS. Their overview noted:
“Distress Centre creates social value through the success of its telephone volunteers as they assist callers in crisis to manage their personal situations by de-escalating the situation. The SROI is $5.16 per $1 invested, or $4,510,733, based on avoidance of callouts, ER visits, and hospital stays. Much of the social value of the Distress Centre’s work is unmonetizable. By assisting clients to live successfully in their communities…the broader community gradually becomes more at ease and understanding of people with mental illness, which in turn leads to less stigmatization and greater ability for people within a community to care and support one another.”
Karen Gallagher-Burt, Program Manager, did an internal calculation of value:
“We ran the numbers to see what would happen in the city if the DC didn’t exist for 24 hours. We looked at the number of calls, which were averaging about 400-500 a day. We looked at how many resulted in a 911 connection, or MRT or CRT. If all the people we de-escalated that day ended up at the hospital, it would have cost about $150,000. It blew us away.”
Piloting began for the Alberta Children’s Services Child Welfare Work Safety Line, to ensure the safety of child welfare workers during after-hours visits. Social workers were required to call the line with their location, approximate length of the visit, and any concerns.
Barb Litchinsky retires
May 2008 brought the retirement of Barb Litchinsky as ED, and the hiring of Carol Oliver (who has her own story in this series.) Barb reflected:
''Although we have grown and changed, we have also stayed true to our roots. We are a social work agency committed to helping people when they have determined they are in crisis. We use volunteers in the front-line service delivery. We offer our services free of charge. Our telephone lines are still anonymous so that callers can access the help they need without embarrassment or self-consciousness.'' - Barb Litchinsky
At the end of the decade, $3,311,959 in revenue for the year supported more than 78,000 crisis calls, 643 emergency interventions, 53,000-211 calls, 1,765 counselling sessions and almost 200 clients who received Instrumental Needs funding of $62,836.
Dr. Jackie Sieppert, Board Chair and Social Work professor supervising practicum students, summarizes his ongoing experiences:
“I learned a lot about the work of Distress Centre, and I met some of the amazing social workers they had engaged in practice. What pops into my head is going to Distress Centre and immediately feeling comfortable. I always felt welcomed and supported in my various roles. It was always a visit I looked forward to.”
As a new decade and 40th Anniversary approached, Distress Centre was well positioned to provide continuing support to a wide variety of people within and beyond the boundaries of Calgary.