HeadQuarters Kansas is in crisis. A conflict between staff and the board of directors is boiling over.

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Post last updated at 10:10 p.m. Sunday, April 7:

The phone keeps ringing. The goal is to keep answering it. But conflict between the staff and the board of Kansas’ primary suicide prevention hotline has raised big questions about whether the organization is in jeopardy. 

HeadQuarters Kansas staff members set off alarms this week by signing a letter that calls for personnel changes — including for the entire board and the interim executive director to step down. It states that the board’s decisions have threatened the center’s funding from the state. 

Meanwhile, the board has alleged possible mishandling of grant funds and defended becoming much more hands-on in the organization’s management in recent months, stating that they’re “in emergency mode.” 


The letter, signed by about 80% of HeadQuarters’ current employees, was initially sent to the board on Tuesday and sent to media on Thursday as a last resort, when they felt the board was not answering their demands.

As of Sunday, HeadQuarters’ funding from the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services for fiscal year 2025 — grant payments that would begin on July 1 — is on hold, though KDADS has indicated support for the organization’s staff and volunteers.

Numerous sources — including board members, current and former staff members and a volunteer — offered a more complete understanding of how the situation has unfolded. Most staff members interviewed requested and were granted anonymity for fear of losing their job or for the potential of creating hostility in the workplace; most had signed the letter, some had not. 

Some sources said they saw the staff letter as misguided, or a distraction from the organization’s mission; some who signed said they believed it was essential to preserve the history and the culture of the organization, and to ensure they could continue doing the work for years to come. 

The call center

HeadQuarters has grown very quickly in recent years.

According to federal tax documents, the organization had five employees and gross receipts of $305,000 in 2018. By the 2022 filing, those numbers had multiplied by more than 10, with 58 employees and $3.4 million in gross receipts. 

The switch to make 988 the suicide hotline nationwide opened up a lot of grant opportunities for HeadQuarters, former CEO Steve Devore said. 988 went live in 2022. New grants, through KDADS and elsewhere, became available. As a result, HQ has gone from a little neighborhood nonprofit to a center that could serve as the primary suicide prevention hotline for the state of Kansas. 

Staff answered more than 26,000 calls in 2022 and trained 60 new volunteer crisis counselors, according to that year’s annual report. 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Former HeadQuarters President and CEO Steve Devore speaks at an event to celebrate completion of a new mural, May 24, 2023.

“The day that I resigned, we had a budget over $5 million, and we had 67 people put on payroll,” Devore said. “The things that we have been able to accomplish over the past five years, people never thought possible. And the lives that we were able to save and the difference that we were able to make throughout the entire state of Kansas and beyond was absolutely remarkable.”

Even through that rapid growth, two former leaders in the organization preserved the long-standing culture at HQ, said one staff member who signed the letter.

Get help 24/7

Staff and board members want to ensure the public knows that HeadQuarters Kansas is available to help people in crisis.

If you or someone you know needs support in a mental health crisis, call or text “HELP” to 988.

HeadQuarters can also be reached at its local Lawrence number, 785-841-2345.

Chat online with a crisis support counselor at 988lifeline.org/chat. Find additional mental health resources on the main website at 988lifeline.org.

“You can’t go into any nonprofit workplace and feel the way that you do at HeadQuarters,” they said. “It’s incredibly accepting and supportive. And, you know, that’s why people stick around.”

Volunteer Christi Jarrett said she had never seen an organization with so much dedication and focus on doing the job that they’re there to do. 

“That’s been really impressive to me there. In the organization itself, there’s so much support; there’s no politics,” Jarrett said. 

“There’s been a spirit of support, and of unity and shared mission, and a lot of taking care of each other,” said another staff member who signed the letter. “And that goes for us inside the agency and what we do for people outside the agency, and that’s just — they just don’t want that to disappear.”

The work gets heavy. 

“Answering telephone calls and chats from people in crisis is pretty tough work, and you have to be in the right frame of mind to do it — and part of HeadQuarters’ success in that area has been keeping a really supportive, kind environment,” they said.

“And so the fact that so much of this has disrupted that and made it feel less of a safe space is just not good for the employees to have to deal with.”

The survey

Michelle Fales joined the HeadQuarters board of directors in March 2021 and served as treasurer from January 2022 until she took over as board chair in November 2023, following the previous chair’s resignation.

On Dec. 12, Fales sent out an email to staff, introducing herself and saying one of her first tasks would be to do an evaluation of Devore. She gave them a link to an anonymous online survey to reflect on Devore’s performance. She followed up with another email on Christmas to let staff know the survey deadline was extended, wish them happy holidays and thank them for all they do for the organization — “I know the success is due to all of you,” she wrote. 

An employee who signed the staff letter said that “this whole thing, ever since Michelle sent out the anonymous survey about our former CEO, has been incredibly distracting from our work.” 

Some staff members filled out the survey but never heard anything back, so they were concerned that they had done something wrong and feared they might be awaiting consequences from the board. And some started asking questions about it.

Fales wrote to staff again on Jan. 25 to let them know Devore’s evaluation was confidential and its outcome would not be shared with employees. She wrote that the board was reviewing policies, “as we should be doing yearly, and some changes are being proposed.” If any information from the employee surveys was going to cause any changes in policy, the board would relay information as it became available, she wrote.

“We will not tolerate gossiping or speculation on any of these items,” Fales wrote. “That is not healthy for any employees or the working environment.” 

But Devore never received the results of the evaluation, either, Fales confirmed. Devore said he decided to resign Jan. 26 after about five years leading HQ. He cited the toll that the work and the center’s growth had taken on him and his mental health, and some personality conflicts that were starting to surface.

“I chose to leave on a very high note, feeling like this organization had never been in such a good place in its 50-year history,” he said.

The board publicly announced Devore’s resignation and the selection of retired Ballard Center CEO Becky Price as interim executive director in a news release on Feb. 8

The tipping point

A longtime employee, who staff members described as “a beloved leader” and mentor who was fundamental to the organization’s survival and success, was terminated Jan. 29 for reasons the board would not share with staff members for confidentiality reasons. The board also has not publicly stated that the employee was terminated. 

That former employee declined to comment for this article. 

That day, Monica Kurz, then HeadQuarters’ vice president of policy and prevention, called a meeting at the board’s request, and all full-time staff members (25 people, at the time) were invited, said staff members who sent out the letter. 

The board had set the tone of the meeting as a safe space to react and respond, staff said, and emotions were high. 

Staff said they questioned the sudden, major change in leadership, asked about the board’s plans for the coming weeks, expressed a lack of trust in the board, and asked for transparency and an opportunity to provide input on policies and major organizational decisions moving forward. 

“The Board members were hostile and angry, and very uncomfortable with the fact that some people were in tears, or that people were having an emotional response to this shocking event that had just happened,” said an employee who signed the letter. “So the meeting ended up being more traumatic than (the personnel change) had been in the first place, just by the way it was handled.”

Board Vice Chair Julia Butler said there have been a lot of questions and feelings from staff members — “angst and anger and outright hostility, I would call it, as to not being told why.” 

Fales, reflecting on the past few months and what has happened, said that “If when all this transpired, they had all just sat down in a civil manner instead of yelling and screaming at us for two hours, which is what transpired back on January 29, it would be a totally different place and time.”

Staff members said that characterization — “yelling and screaming” — was not congruent with their recollection of the meeting, and that it was “an attempt to bait reactions and distract the staff (and now the public) from what we should all be focusing on, which is the stabilization of our organization and the securing of state and county funds.”

They said they would characterize the difference in perception “as an example of the board not only being unfamiliar with the organization’s culture but also being uncomfortable with and unsupportive of it.”

Since that leader’s termination, one employee who signed the letter said they felt like the culture of support at HeadQuarters has been further threatened. 

“There’s a constant feeling like — I’m always grateful when my key still works every day when I come in and unlock the door, you know?” they said. “… It’s just a hard way to function.”

Contributed photo The HeadQuarters Kansas call center

The ‘potential mishandling of funds’

When staff disseminated their letter to media Thursday, stating that board decisions were jeopardizing the center’s funding and calling for them to resign, the board was prepared with a statement in response. 

“Unfortunately, fiscal decisions were made at HeadQuarters Kansas without board knowledge and approval from 2021 through December 2023 that put the funding of the agency in jeopardy,” the statement read. 

The employee surveys in December led the board to conduct a “thorough inquiry into the handling of finances and promptly notified our funding partners, the state of Kansas and Douglas County of potential mishandling of funds.” 

Board members do not believe anything criminal happened, according to their statement, and they confirmed they are not currently planning on legal action against former or current employees. 

But “As a result of the board’s inquiry it has been identified that from June 2021 through June 2023, a minimum of $206,000 in funds may not have been used in compliance with grant guidelines,” according to the statement. “This has resulted in the agency being re-audited for 2021, 2022 and 2023. The board anticipates these audits will begin in May 2024.”

Fales said the state has asked that HeadQuarters not repay that $206,000 until the audits are done, however. 

HQ also reduced its grant request to the state for February by $225,269, Fales said, “because of PTO payout and bonuses in December 2023, that have since been identified were not allowable reimbursements from the grant,” according to the board statement. For reference, she said HQ normally requests between $250,000 and $300,000 per month from the state. The organization has also inquired to find out whether there were any additional funds drawn in the current fiscal year that were not allowable grant reimbursements, according to the statement. 

Devore said that if indeed HQ had misallocated grant dollars, “I will be the first person to take responsibility and offer an apology. It was done in good faith, it was done with my knowledge that we were able to do that, and we had done that for multiple years without anybody ever asking or telling us that that was not appropriate.”

Devore said that senior staff members had confirmed to him that HeadQuarters had the authority to use KDADS funds for raises or bonuses, and he disagreed with the board’s use of the word “mishandling.” 

“I was just disappointed in the words that they chose to use to highlight or redirect some of the things that are going on,” he said. 

Kurz, who worked for HeadQuarters for more than nine years, said senior staff had always agreed that a good use of grant funds was to compensate folks fairly, and at a level that was competitive with other employers.

“I want to be really sensitive to the fact that we do need to be good stewards of grant dollars; we do need to make sure that we are accounting for what is and is not OK to spend money on; that we’re going through and doing a very thorough accounting,” she said. “I welcome the information that will come from an audit, and I don’t know that I believe that the information that is being given to the press right now is verified, even internally. I don’t think that they know what they don’t know.”

Kurz said it was always her stance that the appropriate HQ employees should contact the state with any questions about grant funds. Ultimately, she said, it was Devore’s job to bring the budget to the board and get it approved. 

The state

Multiple board members confirmed that Andrew (Andy) Brown, KDADS’ deputy secretary for programs, gave the board three recommendations during a March 27 meeting. 

Brown has been working for KDADS for several years now but served as executive director of Headquarters for almost four years from 2014 through 2017, according to his LinkedIn page

Board members said Brown had recommended that Fales step down as chair of the board, that Kurz be named interim executive director, and that the board hire an outside search firm to hire the new permanent executive director. 

Fales said that during that meeting, board members told Brown “exactly what they felt and why, and he was made aware of some things that were misled to him.”

Once the board had no more questions or comments, “I said, ‘You’re welcome to leave the call now, Mr. Brown,’ and that is how it ended,” Fales said. The board’s discussion continued, and they decided to reconvene before making any firm recommendations back to the state, she said. 

KDADS, in a statement sent by Cara Sloan-Ramos, said the agency “did not make any personnel demands as this is an issue for Headquarters to resolve internally.” 

But the agency has been in contact with the new interim executive director, Ruby Johnson, “and is reviewing the short-term management plan that was submitted to the agency on Monday this week,” the statement continued. “KDADS is working with Headquarters to strengthen policies and ensure taxpayer funds are spent properly.”

Johnson confirmed that KDADS had not given a directive for the board to make the recommended changes. 

“What I heard from KDADS staff was that we needed to demonstrate the ability to move forward stably to make the 988 program a success,” she said. 

Fales said that on advice of legal counsel, she could not yet provide a copy of the management plan submitted to KDADS because it had not been approved. She said the board was expecting to hear back about it on Monday. 

KDADS and Brown did not respond to an email asking for further comment regarding the recommendations board members said Brown had made. 

However, in the statement, KDADS also said that “KDADS’s primary objective for the organization is to continue to effectively provide public services for those in need, particularly the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. It’s heartening to see that this commitment is shared by the staff and volunteers at HQ, who are equally dedicated to the sustainability and mission of the organization.”

Staff members in their letter had also demanded that Kurz be appointed as the interim ED, writing that “In failing to follow (Brown’s) recommendations the BOD is putting the agency and its primary funding source in severe jeopardy.”

Fales said she was still “befuddled” about how staff had found out about Brown’s recommendations. She and Butler said the recommendations came during an executive session, meaning a closed-door meeting, to discuss personnel issues. 

“We should have been able to have that information be confidential,” she said. 

Asked if they would like to comment on how that information became known, staff members said via email, “As a publicly funded nonprofit organization, our Board meetings are not private. The staff and public have a right to know what the state agency thinks about the delivery of essential services. It’s our opinion that the Board should operate with transparency to best serve the public.” They declined to clarify how they found out about Brown’s recommendations. 

The interim executive director

The board announced Johnson — who was vice chair of the board — as the new interim executive director in an email to staff on Monday, stating also that “To maintain the integrity of our organization and safeguard our reputation, ALL employees are to refrain from discussing internal changes with anyone outside the organization.” 

The board announced Johnson’s new position in a news release on Wednesday

Staff members wrote in their letter that “Ruby’s dual roles and active participation during strategic decisions made by the BOD demonstrated a clear conflict of interest and personal gain.” They demanded that Johnson step down, and that the board appoint Kurz to the position instead. 

Johnson joined the board in fall of 2022. She took on the role of vice chair in November 2023, when Fales stepped into the role of chair. 

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Ruby Mae Johnson is pictured in this file photo from a July 2023 Lawrence City Commission meeting.

Jessica Davis, HeadQuarters’ development officer, described Johnson as “a long-standing and very active member, which I appreciate on our board.”

Johnson said she realized right before the board’s meeting in early March that she might be interested in the interim ED job, and that she disclosed that to the full board in an executive session at the meeting. She said she told them she could no longer be part of the conversations related to the ED search, and that she recused herself from those proceedings. But she did not immediately step down. 

“I maintained my connection to the board because there was policy work that I strongly felt needed my voice,” she said. 

But “as soon as I started to get indications from the board that they might be looking at me for the interim role, I took a leave of absence from the board — which admittedly was very brief, because this all happened pretty quickly,” she said. “And the moment I was extended the offer, I resigned.”

Staff members said via email that “The fact that she remained the Vice Chair of the Board up until the very moment she was appointed Interim is a clear conflict of interest.”

Johnson said she spoke to KDADS staff after she accepted the interim ED role. 

“The very first thing I asked was if me being in this role is going to cost us our funding, and I was told no,” Johnson said. “If the answer had been yes, I would have immediately resigned.”

Johnson said her background is in mental health, peer support, trauma-informed care and nonprofit management. Since 2000, she has worked for the state, for Mental Health America of the Heartland, and as director of Wichita State University’s Center for Behavioral Health Initiatives, and more recently as the transgender liaison for the PRIDE+ colleague resource group for CVS Health and Aetna, according to her LinkedIn page

“I would not apply for the job if I didn’t feel qualified for it,” she said, “and I do not believe that I would have been put in the position if the board didn’t find I qualified.”

Asked about morale at HQ in her first week on the job, Johnson said she sees people doing the work. She said she wouldn’t dare speak for the full staff, and she has seen people who are very supportive of the direction the board has taken, people who are very dismayed by that direction, and people who are still feeling things out.

“And everybody, in any of those categories, is still here, doing their job,” Johnson said. “I think the content of the conversation, the tenor of some of the statements out there, has people personally feeling very emotional, including myself. But everybody is there doing their work and doing it well, and everybody is focused on the future of the organization.” 

The board’s oversight

Some staff members were perplexed that the board had been unaware of any potential financial issues.

“HQ’s Board members each have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization and are supposed to provide oversight – specifically financial oversight – to the organization,” staff members said in an email. 

Some said they believe Fales — who was in the role of treasurer during part of the time that the board now says funds may have been mishandled — in particular should have been aware of what was going on. 

Fales said she was in monthly executive meetings between the executive director, director of operations and board chair to go over financials they were provided and personnel issues, and to discuss the agenda for the next board meeting. 

She said there were a lot of things happening in the organization and the board was “kept in the gray.” She said “the way the financials that were provided to us were given, there was no way we could have determined that these items were transpiring.” 

“I’ve been treasurer of many organizations. You don’t dig deeper unless you have a reason to dig deeper,” Fales said. “Otherwise, you might be overstepping your bounds.”

Price, who served as interim executive director of HeadQuarters for about 45 days in February and March, said she felt that the board did not have a strong understanding of grant compliance. “Just the lack of knowledge was pretty scary,” she said. 

Fales disputed that and said “that was never even a discussion point that we ever had with her, that I can recall.” 

“I have always known that grants have tight restrictions, based off of other boards that I’ve been on, and that you need to adhere to those,” Fales said. “However, adhering to those is not our number one responsibility as a board — our responsibility is to make sure that we have staff that understands those grants, and how they are to adhere to that.”

Multiple board members said they believed the staff does not understand what the board’s role is supposed to be.

“As a board member, you’re really supposed to be more of a guidance board member. That means you give them guidance, based off of what you know, what you’re being told,” Fales said. “I did that. I’ve done that since I joined the board in 2021.”

The board currently includes seven members, five of whom have served for less than a year. 

Steve Maceli, who rejoined the HeadQuarters board in March and previously served a term around 2010, said that management manages the staff, but ultimately, the board is in charge of the whole organization and must ensure that funds are being used appropriately.

“Every single person on this board has a stake in the success of this organization. Unfortunately, I feel like there’s a disconnect in communication with the staff at certain levels, because there’s no regular communication between the board and the employees,” he said.

The ‘micromanaging’

Price’s first reaction when she was relieved of the interim executive director position? “Thank God,” she said. 

She is “happily retired” from the Ballard Center, but “I really thought that I could step in and be there for the staff — change is always hard — and then help them to find a new CEO, a good CEO,” she said. “… People that don’t work in the nonprofit world don’t really understand what’s needed in the leader of a nonprofit.”

Instead, Price said, “I don’t know why I was there, because they would not take any of my suggestions. And when I say they, I only communicate with Michelle.”

Staff members wrote in their letter that “the BOD has pursued unnecessary policy changes in an effort to exercise control over staff’s ability to execute day-to-day operations. Frequent communication from the board chair, Michelle Fales, and an over-focus on employee policies has resulted in confusion and significant distraction from staff’s essential duties.”

Price said she had asked Fales to stop “micromanaging” the staff.

(Fales, in text messages after this article was published, said that Price never attended a board meeting and that “Becky interacted with all the board and never once told me I was micromanaging. She is upset because she knows why she is no longer there.”)

As one example, Price said, they put in place a policy that every check greater than $1,000 had to be approved by the board. 

Fales said that particular financial policy had changed a few times. She said the board put in place a policy that the board approve any check for more than $10,000. They initially made a modification and lowered that to $2,500, she said; then the state reviewed the policy.

“After the state had got a copy of that financial policy, they came back and said, ‘We are going to require that every check over $1,000 have two signatures on it,’” she said. The board then decided it would make it easier to require board approval for any checks over $1,000.

“So if you can imagine, we stop at the drop of a hat anytime we are told that there are checks to be signed, and two of us run up there to sign checks,” she said. “It’s not been easy for us, but we’re doing it for free.”

“Not one of us has been paid for any of this. I don’t think they realize we’re not getting anything out of this, except for trying to look out for the best thing for this organization, and look at what we have to put in place so that this stuff that happened in the last three years never happens again,” Fales continued. 

KDADS did not respond to an email requesting comment or documentation of policy recommendations given to HQ or its board. 

A staff member who signed the letter said they had concerns about other policies: “Our code of conduct, our social media, our employee handbook, our parental leave policy, our — anything that would be represented in our employee handbook, was being revised and has still not been approved or released to the staff, for months at this point.”

The board’s initial statement to media said that “the board determined personnel changes and revision of policies were necessary to ensure the viability of the organization going forward. It is required that all board members, volunteers and employees strictly adhere the policies the board has put in place in to ensure the financial integrity and to allow HQ to continue to provide valuable and vital services in moments of need to support safety, reduce suicide to build resilience for the people of Douglas County and the state of Kansas.”

Asked for documentation of the policy revisions they’d mentioned, the board said that “We are unable to provide these policies. The board has reviewed and revised all current and former policies as necessary.” In the email announcing Johnson’s appointment on Monday, the board said that the employee handbook was on hold while they gather information on grant funding from the state and county, and that further updates regarding organizational duties, bylaws and paid time off would be shared soon with leadership.

The board’s initial statement continued, “We understand this process has led to frustration from staff, however, this situation has escalated in such a way that the proper channels of communication have not been used. Leading to a misunderstanding of where the organization is and why certain decisions were made.”

Price opined that “The staff’s ‘frustration’ has escalated upon learning that the ‘proper channels of communication’ were to keep their mouths shut and wait to be told if they would have benefits or not.”

One staff member said the board had gone from being “totally absent to involved on a daily basis,” and that Fales had sometimes “set up shop” at HeadQuarters. 

“That’s really abnormal for a board, so that’s really anxiety-provoking,” they said. “… There’s no trust, so it feels like we’re walking on eggshells.”

Fales said there have been days when she’s sat in the boardroom with her laptop, so she can still do her full-time job as well as be there to answer questions for the operations side and communicate with the state. 

“They can call it overreaching, call it micromanaging, but it had to be done,” Fales said. “We’re in emergency mode. And now we’re in even worse emergency mode because of the steps they’ve taken based off of false information.”

Kurz, who resigned from HeadQuarters on Tuesday, said the boundary between the board and day-to-day operations is blurred, contributing to staff distraction and burnout. 

“I can understand why this kind of leadership coupled with frequent changes at the ED level which were not communicated in a timely manner to funders has led to a loss of confidence in board leadership,” she said. “To make things right there is a lot of work to do. But ultimately I agree with the staff, that work cannot effectively start under this board.”

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The letter

As the conflict has gained public attention, some people have raised questions or allegations that people were coerced into signing the staff letter.

Organizers behind the letter held a non-mandatory virtual meeting with most HeadQuarters employees in attendance to discuss the letter and invite them to sign it before it was sent to the board. A few employees were not invited because of their relationship with the board, organizers said. 

They said the letter was read aloud during the meeting, and that it was sent out to the full staff a couple of hours before it was sent to the board with, at the time, 77 typed signatures. That grew to 100 over the following couple of days as people asked to be added. 

Organizers said they emphasized that signing the letter was optional; there would be no consequences for not signing; and that anyone could have their name removed if they changed their minds. 

Seven of eight signers contacted for this article — six current employees and Jarrett, the volunteer — said they felt strongly that they were under no pressure to sign, and that they wanted to put their names on the message. 

One employee said they regretted signing once they read the letter “in real detail” — which happened once it had already been sent to the board with their name among the signatures. They said they were in agreement with the overall goal to make sure the center keeps its grant funding, but the letter seemed overly personal. 

They said they felt the letter represented the focus on keeping HeadQuarters going, to a point. “But then it makes you wonder, what difference does it make to us who is the interim (executive director)? Like, why does it have to be this specific person? And then it starts to feel really weird,” they said. 

It has created a rift, to varying degrees, between the majority of employees who signed and the minority who did not. 

“It’s really hard when you have two sets of people that you have had respect for and work for and you have to try to determine which one you feel is being honest. And (I’ve) never had an issue with either one being dishonest with me, you know,” they said. “So it’s really hard. At this point, I think that people just want to focus on keeping our doors open, whether we have jobs or not.” 

Contributed photo The HeadQuarters Kansas call center

Davis, the development director, did not sign the letter. She said the staff wants to do everything they need to do to work with the board to ensure that the center’s funding is secure, and that the letter has taken away from that work. 

“It’s very disheartening that a majority of the staff are — these efforts that they’re doing against the organization make me sick to my stomach,” she said. “They have completely lost sight of our mission and the reason why we do the work that we do. And now we as an organization, the people who really care and want to keep our doors open, all they’re doing is — now we’re spending our time to make sure that our doors are open. They’re making it harder.”

Davis also questioned some of the letter’s demands.

“Who in their right mind would ever think that the right thing to do would be to ever remove the entire board? That’s ridiculous,” she said. “How does that create stability, and who’s going to do the job, and who’s gonna sign on? Who’s going to help us through?”

Get help 24/7

Staff and board members want to ensure the public knows that HeadQuarters Kansas is available to help people in crisis.

If you or someone you know needs support in a mental health crisis, call or text “HELP” to 988.

HeadQuarters can also be reached at its local Lawrence number, 785-841-2345.

Chat online with a crisis support counselor at 988lifeline.org/chat. Find additional mental health resources on the main website at 988lifeline.org.

Another employee who did not sign the letter said that some staff members’ feelings were hurt that they were left out of the initial meeting — and maybe they would have signed the letter, or maybe they wouldn’t have. They said, however, that they believe the staff members who signed think they’re making the right choice for the organization. 

“I’m not talking ill of everyone. I do think that in their hearts that they are putting HQ first,” they said. “But I do think that they are receiving one side of the story, and that story, in their minds, is the only truth.”

Price said that she has been impressed with the staff, and that they’re “so passionate and dedicated to what they do that it just makes me sad and angry that they’re having to deal with this.”

“It’s really unusual for a staff to say, ‘Hey, this organization is so important that we’re not gonna let this happen,’” Price said. 

Since staff sent the letter to the board, one board member — described positively by both staff and board members — has resigned. 

Other board members have received dozens of emails calling for their resignation, said Fales and Butler, the board’s vice chair. A message in one screenshot Fales provided, from an employee who had signed the letter, said that “People will die because of your choices.” 

“That anger and vitriol toward board members, I don’t really understand where that all comes from,” Butler said. 

The priority

Sources interviewed for this article said the most important thing to them was that someone will be there to answer the call — that HeadQuarters can continue its essential services for Kansans in crisis. 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Van Go and HeadQuarters Kansas — then KSPHQ — staff join the artists for the mural ribbon cutting in May 2023.

“We did not want to be talking to the press about this; we wanted to be able to come to a resolution that would allow us to focus on our mission,” one staff member said. “One of the concerns that weighed heavy on our minds was how this would impact people who utilize our service. We never want the public to lose faith in the support that we provide because we’re focused on providing 24/7 confidential support, and we didn’t want this to impact them. We wish it didn’t have to come to this.”

Fales said that she cares deeply for the organization, and that the board knows employees are the lifeline to HeadQuarters. She said the board would love to work with staff to strengthen the organization. 

“I’ve lost lots of friends and family members to suicide. The board is just trying to do its best,” she said. 

Staff members who signed the letter said what it all boils down to is that they and volunteers want to honor the organization’s history, preserve its culture and protect the organization from dissolution.

“More than anything, we want to continue providing vital services to Kansans in crisis through 988,” they said in an email. “We must secure the necessary funding from the state in order to achieve these goals, and we strongly believe that the current Board of Directors and Interim Executive Director are detrimental to our cause.”

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

More coverage: HeadQuarters Kansas

HeadQuarters Kansas is in crisis. A conflict between staff and the board of directors is boiling over.

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The phone keeps ringing. The goal is to keep answering it. But a public conflict between the staff and the board of HeadQuarters Kansas — the state’s primary suicide prevention hotline — has raised big questions about whether the organization is in jeopardy.


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