Archive for Friday, November 22, 2013

Longtime leader of Headquarters departs; organization cuts hours of suicide prevention line

November 22, 2013


The longtime director of Headquarters Counseling has left as the organization is struggling with major funding cuts and a temporary reduction in the hours of its suicide prevention hotline.

The president of the board of Headquarters confirmed Friday that Marcia Epstein, the nonprofit's executive director since 1979, has departed the organization, effective immediately.

Board President David Moore said he could not provide more details of the personnel matter, but he did confirm that the organization has seen its funding decline by about 50 percent since 2011. He also confirmed that over the past couple of years the organization has been in talks with various other local social service agencies, such as the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and Health Care Access, about merging Headquarters' operations into their organizations.

Moore said there are no immediate plans for Headquarters — which operates the hotline and provides counseling and bereavement services — to merge with another provider, but he did not rule out the possibility in the future.

"The priority is to keep Headquarters operating as a separate entity as it is now, but we need to do a complete overhaul and evaluation of our operations," Moore said.

When reached Friday afternoon, Epstein said she did not want to get into the details of her departure.

"I'm really proud of the many ways I have helped with people in need, and very proud of the volunteers and counselors who do amazing work there everyday," Epstein said. "I love that organization."

The decline in funding for the organization is causing an immediate cut back in hours of Headquarters' suicide prevention line. Moore said the once-24-hour line will be staffed only from 8 a.m. to midnight. During the midnight to 8 a.m. hours, people in need will be instructed to call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-TALK. Moore said he hoped the reduction would be temporary, but he did not have a timeline for when 24-hour local service may resume.

Moore said the headquarters now has just one full-time employee and one part-time employee, which is down from four full-time employees a year ago. The organization also relies on trained volunteers, but he said overhead and other expenses have made it difficult for the organization.

"It is kind of bare bones and operating on a shoe string at the moment," Moore said.

The organization has received funding cuts from the city, from the United Way and from Kansas University in recent years. Its budget now stands at about $120,000, down from about $240,000 in 2011.

Challenges for the organization started to emerge more than two years ago, said Steve Maceli, a former board member who left the board about a year ago. Maceli said he was part of a group that lobbied for Headquarters to consider affiliating with either Health Care Access or the Bert Nash Center. But he said board members and Epstein were at an impasse on the correct direction for Headquarters.

Maceli said he and other board members resigned after they reached an impasse with Epstein on the future of the organization.

"About three years ago the board recognized that Headquarters was not on a sustainable path," Maceli said. "We sought a long term solution to ensure a strong future for our mission. Our mission is what is really important. That is what has to be preserved."

Headquarters has fielded about 26,000 calls over the last 12 months, Moore said. About 60 percent of them were calls of five minutes or more, indicating they were callers in significant need. The organization also sponsors survivors groups.

"We're very optimistic that we can continue to keep Headquarters open, and we're doing everything we can to remain viable," said Moore, who lost a son to suicide two years ago. "It is organizations like this that makes Lawrence so unique. I think folks would really miss having us."

Although Moore said he couldn't go into details of Epstein's departure, he did praise her work at the center, where she began as a volunteer in 1975 and took over as director in 1979.

"We thank her for her years of service," Moore said. "She has helped thousands of people in crisis in her 34 years answering the phones, training new volunteers and leading our bereavement groups."

Moore said the Headquarters board hopes to have an interim director in place within the next couple of weeks. A search for a permanent director will begin soon, he said.


Chuck Woodling 4 years, 7 months ago

God speed, Marcia. It's been a delight working with you through United Way.

Zach Davis 4 years, 7 months ago

I personally believe that it might be more beneficial if the timing was reversed to being available midnight to 8 a.m. the night time hours are a very critical time gap for many within the grasps of depression and other factors that lead to suicidal thoughts. Some may feel more at ease and feel cared about by someone local where now someone in that situation may feel their only choice is to sit through the pain overnight or take action on those thoughts because they rather not deal with first responders and/or the ER.

This is just my opinion for whatever it is worth.

But in closing I will say Headquarters makes a huge positive difference for many

James Canaday 4 years, 7 months ago

Headquarters has fielded about 26,000 calls over the last 12 months, Moore said. About 60 percent of them were calls of five minutes or more, indicating they were callers in significant need. The organization also sponsors survivors groups.

*in terms of money/efficiency, this is pretty darned efficient!

I am so sorry to see Marcia Epstein leave this organization, especially at this critical point. she is truly a gem for our community, and I sincerely hope she's not been mistreated somewhere.

I personally believe HQ should continue to be independent, and needs to find some added funding source. I also believe that our community generally fails to truly understand the depth of service provided by this organization!

how valuable is a life? we spend mandatory money on art for each city building project, and I support the arts, however, I think life is a more important value, as someone who is pulled back from the brink might then contribute to our community in many ways, including in art.

Scott Criqui 4 years, 7 months ago

A piece of my heart broke hearing this news.

Personally speaking, as a long term Headquarters Counseling Center (HQ) volunteer, Marcia Epstein was an very important part of my life. She was there when I was determining my career and my future. She was a major reason I dedicated my self to community service. Her impact on me is profound. Marcia has amazing dedication and concern for others. Marcia - you forever have my profound appreciation.

Headquarters Counseling Center's mission is life affirming and should be persevered in our community. I hope the HQ's Board takes this unique moment in the organization's history and be courageous and bold in developing the next steps. Headquarters and the clients they serve deserve nothing less.

Neil Rasmussen 4 years, 7 months ago

I was a volunteer for 10 years and on the board for 3 years and can't believe the board is making such a drastic move. Headquarters has been staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for over 34 years! The board needs to read the mission of Headquarters and move heaven and earth to keep the phones on through the night!

With Marcia not at the helm I fear what lies ahead for Headquarters. There's a certain subtlety to working on a board with a non profit such as Headquarters and it sounds as if the current board didn't have that distinction. Shame on you for creating conditions such that YOU couldn't maintain funding. Yes, realize that onus is shared between staff and board. Shame on you for either removing or creating a stand off whereby Marcia is no longer director.

Marcia is the epitome of empathy, and has made such a difference in this community and beyond. I was blessed to volunteer here and learn from Marcia and others what it means to truly listen, to truly care.

Bless you Marcia and thanks for your powerful stand to make a difference in this world. You are an incredible human being.

Kevin Elliott 4 years, 7 months ago

This reflects very poorly on the board. For small community based nonprofits the fundraising burden is on the board and if they are not up for it they should make room for someone who can. The idea to merge a unique service in this case is just a lazy board pushing fundraising responsibilities to someone else.

Marcia is a Lawrence treasure

Michael LoBurgio 4 years, 7 months ago

Suicide rate climbing in Kansas and U.S.

The number of Kansas suicides increased more than 31 percent between 2011 and 2012. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s recently released vital statistics report, coroner’s offices across the state reported a record-high 505 suicides last year.

There are significant regional differences in suicide rates. For the past decade or more, the rates typically have been highest in the states of the mountain west and lowest in the more heavily populated states of the northeast.

But with Kansas’ significant recent increase, it has moved into the rank of states with the highest rates. No one seems to know why, or whether the dramatic one-year increase was an aberration or the beginning of a disturbing trend.

Between 2011 and 2012, the state’s suicide rate went from 13.4 deaths per 100,000 population to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 population.

“The numbers are very troubling,” said Miranda Steele, spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “We’ll be working with our partner agencies and with KDADS (Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services) on seeing where we go next with our interventions.” Funding an issue

Historically, much of the state’s response has been defined by its support for community mental health centers; the work of groups such as the Governor’s Mental Health Services Planning Council, and education campaigns.

Larry Carter 4 years, 7 months ago

Like Neil, I fear for the future of Headquarters. I had the privilege of working with Marcia for 15 years and am very aware of the many, many selfless acts she did to keep the agency alive and vital. I am also worried about the losing the spirit of Headquarters if it is swallowed by some larger agency. The agency was birthed through direct, grassroots action and, against all odds, has managed to preserve the best of these values even as the focus shifted more and more to suicide intervention. Can the spirit of HQ survive even if recreated in different form? We shall see. Marcia is one of the most amazing humans I've had the pleasure to meet. When it comes to questions regarding the best interests of HQ, I trust her judgment over that of any board, particularly a board where so few members have ever even worked a single shift there. This is a travesty of not only what is right, but more fundamentally what is smart. Shame on you, Headquarters Board of Directors. Like Kevin said, you did a terrible job maintaining funding, then hid your failures by forcing ill-advised solutions that could fundamentally alter the core of the agency. For shame!

Belinda Willhite 4 years, 7 months ago

As a former volunteer, I am deeply saddened to learn that Marcia has been let go. She was there for me when I was in my depths of despair and coaxed me back to sanity. She is the reason I co-founded a non-profit for the poor here in Iowa seven years ago. Her down to earth style and empathetic attitude has made the difference for thousands. I am a Headquarters Survivor and I have the shirt to prove it. I love you, Marcia and shame on the Board for their failure to have a vision.

Marcia Epstein 4 years, 6 months ago

For additional information about Headquarters, Inc. from January - November 2013, please see Thank you.

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