The National Eating Disorders The Association (NEDA) has dismissed its helpline staff and will replace them with AI chatbot called “Tessa” starting June 1. The decision comes from the decision of the staff to unionize after many calls during the pandemic that led to mass staff fires. The six paid employees manage a volunteer staff of almost 200 people, who handled calls (sometimes more) from almost 70,000 people last year.
NEDA officials told NPR the decision has nothing to do with unionization. However, said vice president Lauren Smolar, the increased number of calls and largely volunteer staff created more legal liability for the organization and the wait times for people who needed help increased.
“That, frankly, is unacceptable in 2023 for people to wait a week or more to receive the information they need, the specialized treatment options they need,” he said.
However, former workers called the move blatantly anti-union.
“NEDA acknowledges that this is a long-awaited change and that AI can better serve those with eating disorders, written by Abbie Harper, a helpline associate and union member. “But don’t be fooled—this is not about a chatbot. This is about union busting, plain and simple.”
Tessa’s creator says the chatbot, which was specifically designed for NEDA, is not as advanced as ChatGPT. Instead, it is programmed with a limited number of responses intended to help people learn avoidance strategies. eating abnormalities. It was not a sympathetic ear.
“It’s not an open tool to talk to you and feel like you have access to kind of a listening ear, maybe like the helpline used to be,” Dr. Ellen Fitzsimmons-Craft, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University’s medical school who helped design Tessa, told NPR.
NEDA is in the process of shutting down the helpline now.