Case Study

Supporting call handlers’ mental health at a time of crisis: USA

Equipping staff with the resilience to deal with an exponential increase in calls related to COVID-19.

27 January 2022


To support overwhelmed telephone line staff, the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction’s Resilience and Emotional Support Teams developed a small group model of crisis intervention. This targeted, virtual intervention equipped staff with the resilience to deal with an exponential increase in calls related to COVID-19 and supported staff retention at a vital public service.

Key benefits and outcomes

  • Quick, agile support for extremely busy staff members
  • Improved workforce retention at a time of heightened stress
  • Consistent data on staff wellbeing

The challenge

Indiana 211 (IN211) is a free resource and referral telephone line that assists people who live in the Indiana (USA) and are searching for information about housing, emergency financial assistance, food banks and utilities.

In March 2020, the organisation’s call handlers were overwhelmed with requests for information about COVID-19. Staff were operating call lines 24/7 and saw call volumes rise from 2,5000 to 25,000 calls in a 24-hour period. Staff were stressed and services were at significant risk of losing staff as a result.

In response, the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction (DMHA) mobilised one of the state’s District REST (Resilience and Emotional Support Teams) team.

The solution

The REST Team was faced with the task of keeping the IN211 staff healthy and in service. They had to do this virtually and quickly. The team devised a small group model of crisis intervention and called it a check-in group. In collaboration with IN211 leadership, the REST team strategically assigned staff members into groups not to exceed five members per group.

The groups met twice a week for 30 minutes, facilitated by a mental health professional and a peer support person with special training in substance use disorders. The groups were arranged to meet for a total of four weeks. Once a week, each of the group facilitators would meet for a 30-minute virtual supervision session. During each check-in group meetings, facilitators would ask each group member four questions. The questions would be the same each week and would be posed one at a time to all group members. The data collected at the end of each meeting was done by the group facilitators and not the group members themselves.

Results and benefits

The primary outcome was that the vast majority of the IN211 call handlers remained on the job. Only two out of 29 employees resigned from the company during this time. Employees found the check-in groups so helpful that by the end of the third week, they asked for the process to continue beyond the originally designed four weeks.

Other organisations within Indiana have recognised the benefits of this programme and have requested the support for their employees. Additionally, the Indiana Hospital Association initiated a healthcare executive support project and Community Health Network used it to help buoy intensive care unit nurses and ambulatory healthcare site managers.

Overcoming obstacles

The potential bureaucratic obstacles were avoided because the IN211 leadership staff whole heartedly participated in the planning and logistics and agreed to pay staff to attend the groups.

The REST Team tapped into the incredible outpouring of support by the local behavioural health community (both trained peer support specialists and licensed counsellors). They also had a sense of optimism and a level of cooperation that was essential in the first several weeks of the pandemic. REST Team members spent two months writing the protocols, creating the data collection sheets, figuring out the mechanics of the virtual platform, and communicating with the IN211 leaders.

Takeaway tips

  • Peer support specialists played an essential role in the success of the model. Their assistance in co-facilitating the groups, collecting the data, and providing feedback during the supervision meetings allowed the model to be fine-tuned, as needed.

Contact details

Kimble Richardson, M.S., LMHC, LCSW, LMFT, LCAC (Community Health Network), email

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