The National eating disorder Association (NEDA) has disbanded its helpline staff and will replace it with an AI chatbot Called “Tessa” from June 1st. The decision follows the workforce’s decision to unionize aCentre County Reporter a series of calls in the pandemic era led to mass workforce burnout. The six paid employees managed a volunteer team of about 200 people who handled calls (sometimes multiple) from nearly 70,000 people over the past year.
NEDA officials said NPR The decision had nothing to do with union formation. Instead, Vice President Lauren Smolar said, the increasing number of calls and the largely volunteer staff were leading to greater legal liability for the organization and longer wait times for people who needed help.
“Frankly, in 2023 it’s unacceptable that people have to wait a week or more to get the information they need and the specialized treatment options they need,” she said.
However, former workers describe the move as manifestly anti-union.
“NEDA claims that this is a long-awaited change and that AI can better help people with eating disorders. wrote Abbie Harper, a helpline worker and member of the union. “But don’t be fooled – this isn’t really about a chatbot. This is about union busting, plain and simple.”
The inventor of Tessa says the chatbot, which was specially developed for NEDA, is not as advanced as ChatGPT. Instead, it’s programmed with a limited set of responses designed to help people learn strategies to avoid eating disorder. It’s not an open ear.
“It’s not an open-ended tool that you can talk to and feel like you just have access to some sort of listening ear, like the hotline might be,” says Dr. Ellen Fitzsimmons-CraCentre County Report, a professor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine, which Tessa helped create, told NPR.
NEDA is currently in the process of terminating the hotline.