Entire board and interim director of HeadQuarters Kansas resign; new staff letter highlights concerns

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The interim executive director of HeadQuarters Kansas resigned Monday, and the nonprofit suicide prevention organization’s entire board of directors has resigned over the past few days.

Many of HQ’s staff members and volunteers in April had called for those resignations in a letter sent to the board and provided to media. Staff members were concerned, in part, that the organization’s funding from the state would be in jeopardy. (Read a detailed article about that at this link.)

The organization announced in May that it would be eligible for state funding for the following fiscal year. But in a new letter, which former board chair Michelle Fales provided on Monday, staff members raised new and ongoing concerns.

They wrote that the organization’s funding has been reduced by “at least $745,000” for the upcoming fiscal year; relationships with government agencies and community partners have been damaged; and that “The unjust termination of our colleagues who voiced their concern or disapproval has changed our workplace culture from one of cooperation to one of fear and distrust.”

“These terminations have dismantled the organization, leaving us without critical support and unable to do much important work,” staff members wrote in the letter, sent Friday. “Our now-nonexistant Suicide Prevention Center and its Zero Suicide initiative are obvious, significant casualties.”

Since January, the organization has lost 17 employees, 13 of whom hold master-level education, the letter states. In addition, they wrote that the organization no longer meets licensure criteria as an accredited crisis intervention organization because most social workers are either no longer employed or are on extended leave.

Get help 24/7

HeadQuarters Kansas is available to help people in crisis. If you or someone you know needs support, call or text “HELP” to 988. HeadQuarters can also be reached at its local number, 785-841-2345.

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

The staff members wrote that if their demands — including the resignations of Fales and interim executive director Ruby Johnson — weren’t met by 10 a.m. Monday, they intended to strike, and if any of the people who signed the letter were terminated in retaliation, they would stop working until those people were reinstated.

Johnson, announced as interim director in April, said in a message that nobody was terminated for voicing their concern or disapproval, and “To do so would be counter to everything I have ever stood for as a manager.” She also said she believes factors well beyond the board of directors contributed to a difficult work environment.

Johnson said she made the decision to resign over the weekend and sent in her letter Monday.

“Together, we secured funding that was in jeopardy, implemented a competitive and more equitable pay structure, and built the systems that assure uninterrupted coverage in the crisis center,” Johnson wrote in her resignation letter. “We created new structures of accountability on our relationships with funders, partners, and each other.

“The task now is to bring HeadQuarters culture in line with the stories the staff tell about it. As you know, we fall woefully short in this area. I am moving on with pride in work done, and with my own well being in mind,” Johnson’s resignation letter continued.

All the board members resigned over the weekend or Monday, Fales said via email.

“The board was exhausted by this point and all chose to resign. The board stood united until the very end,” Fales said.

Staff members wrote that they demand the addition of a bylaw that would give call room staff the responsibility to vote in a majority of board seats, and that they would appoint board members who have experience working or volunteering at HQ.

Brandon Eigenman, a spokesperson for HeadQuarters, said the organization is working to ensure continuity of services and taking steps to establish a new board.

“Our lawyer is currently filing a case with the Douglas County Court,” he said via email. “We are awaiting a judge who will then designate a special counsel to oversee the appointment of a new board of directors. At this time (of writing this), our lawyer is still waiting to see the judge.”

Hope Blankenship, vice president of operations for HQ, has assumed the duties of the executive director role. She said a majority of the staff members were present for a meeting Monday, and all agreed that they’re going to do their best to work through this together, and that they were “feeling healthy and encouraged moving forward, working as a team.”

Blankenship said there is no interruption to HQ’s call, text and chat services.

The county budgeted $353,020 for HQ for 2024 but does not yet have an executed contract with the organization. The county has reallocated $72,500 of that funding to different organizations within the past couple of months, including $27,500 to cover part of the cost of a Zero Suicide Coordinator position at Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health. The other $45,000 went to the county’s emergency dispatch center to cover deployment of the mobile response team.

Johnson prior to her resignation submitted a 2025 budget request to the county for $207,000 for HeadQuarters to operate its heyHQ peer-to-peer support line for Kansas youths. Douglas County commissioners are holding budget hearings all week, and behavioral health community partners are scheduled for Tuesday morning’s hearing.

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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.

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Entire board and interim director of HeadQuarters Kansas resign; new staff letter highlights concerns

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The interim executive director of HeadQuarters Kansas and its entire board of directors have resigned. A new staff letter highlights ongoing concerns about the nonprofit suicide prevention organization.

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