City of Coral Springs Champions Well-Being with Behavioral Health Access Program
WASHINGTON, D.C. — “How are you doing?”
It’s a question that people ask, and are asked, countless times a day. But it’s generally seen more as a polite gesture than as an invitation to share how a person is really doing, said Dale Pazdra, deputy city manager for the city of Coral Springs, Fla.
“When you see people here, you ask how they’re doing,” Pazdra told attendees in his Sept. 30 presentation at IPMA-HR’s 2022 conference, Beyond All Limits. “And, when you ask how people are doing, what answer do you want to hear? ‘I’m fine. ‘I’m doing well.’ You don’t necessarily want to hear that someone is falling apart.”
For that matter, how many times have you felt like you were falling apart, but simply nodded and muttered, “I’m good” or something similar when asked about your well-being?
The city of Coral Springs knows its 1,300 employees sometimes feel that way. But, like all of us, these workers sometimes hesitate to seek out the type of support and resources they need to manage their stress and maintain their mental well-being.
Providing these types of resources was the impetus for the city’s decision to create a behavioral health access program (BHAP), an integrated system for employee mental health and crisis intervention, designed to provide education, support, assessment and intervention for city employees who may be exposed to or affected by behavioral health issues.
The Importance of Raising Awareness
Leading a Friday morning session on destigmatizing mental health issues in the workplace, Pazdra outlined how the city’s BHAP helps city employees return to work and their lives with the tools and support they need to reduce the effects of daily stress or a critical incident.
For city employees, a critical incident can come in many forms: loss of a parent or sibling or issues in a relationship or with a child. Or, for first responders, being called to the scene of a mass casualty event or an accident with a serious injury or a fatality can have lasting psychological effects.
“It’s not our job to determine or define what constitutes a traumatic incident,” Pazdra said. “It’s our job to help them get through it, and to make sure that employees know it’s OK not to be OK.”
To help employees overcome adversity, the city created a safety, health and wellness committee as part of the BHAP, which brings city workers and management together in “a non-adversarial, cooperative effort to promote safety and health in the workplace,” Pazdra said. The city, he said, also has a clinical response team that acts “almost like an onsite EAP.”
The interagency team—the city of Coral Springs partners with outside organizations that offer mental well-being resources—offers assessment, treatment and educational services by request when employees are experiencing crisis symptoms that may put them at greater risk for mental health issues. Members assigned to the team are Florida-licensed mental health professionals, such as marriage and family therapists, licensed mental health counselors, licensed clinical social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.
A safety, health and wellness officer manages all aspects of the program, overseeing its administration, updating information and analyzing the effectiveness of its various components, for example.
Employees taking part in the program participate in pre-incident BHAP training, education and awareness, intended to assist employees and their families in terms of what is available to them in the area of mental well-being resources, as well as explaining the structure of mental well-being programs, and to initiate “open and honest conversations related to mental wellness.”
“Awareness training is one of the most important things you can do,” and a key first step toward launching this type of program, Pazdra told the audience, adding that many city employees were receptive to receiving the kind of assistance the BHAP offered.
“So many said things like, ‘no one has ever asked how we’re doing before.’ It’s amazing how many of our people wanted help but didn’t know where to turn.”
When an employee has been part of a critical incident, or is in need of behavioral health assistance for other reasons, he or she can seek out resources via trained peer support, the clinical response team and the city’s chaplaincy. Together, these trained teams combine to provide critical incident stress management (CISM), utilizing the SAFER-R model (stabilization, acknowledgement, facilitation of understanding, encourage effective coping and referral) of individual psychological crisis intervention. (See Figure 1.)
Figure 1: Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM)
Incorporating Well-Being into Everything
The city of Coral Springs has about 70 trained peer supporters, Pazdra said, noting that how these support team members are selected is critical. Coral Springs city employees nominate team members, who undergo an interview, orientation and training process before graduating to a “team coordinator” role.
City leadership plays an equally important part in advancing the program’s goals. The city, he said, encourages those in leadership roles to be accessible and open to supporting employees with mental wellness issues. They seek to demonstrate empathy for other employees, sharing their mental health concerns and referring employees to appropriate support options within the BHAP, for example.
A key component to such a program’s success is removing any barriers that might prevent employees and their dependents from accessing the resources available through the BHAP.
For example, Coral Springs has eliminated co-pays for mental wellness-related counseling and intensive outpatient treatment and has made inpatient treatment at in-network recovery centers available at no cost while eliminating length-of-stay maximums. The city also offers financial assistance for 30 days to employees who voluntarily seek mental health treatment.
Such efforts have earned recognition for the city of Coral Springs, with the program earning the Strategic Leadership and Governance Award from the International City/County Management Association. The state of Florida has also adopted the BHAP model and has built it into the statewide emergency response plan, with the International Journal of Emergency Services recognizing the Coral Springs program as an acceptable behavioral health model.
Much more importantly, the program has made a significant and positive impact on the well-being of the city’s workforce—lowering employees’ reported stress levels, and reducing absenteeism as well as worker’s compensation claims.
Pazdra also shared a handful of city employee testimonials with the group. One Coral Springs employee summed up the unique challenges that come with being a first responder, and how the city’s BHAP provides ways to cope with these occupational hazards:
“In our line of work, we see things with our eyes that we cannot unsee. After these incidents, we carry things in our hearts that others will not. We will wonder about the people we helped, wonder if we could’ve done more . . . wondering if we did enough. This is a normal part of processing the traumatic events we see and face in our line of work.”
Helping workers work through the aftermath of such events and maintain their mental health is why the city’s behavioral health access program exists, and why the city is “really incorporating well-being into everything we do, especially in HR,” Pazdra said. “Even if just one or two people can function better as a result of taking advantage of this program, then we feel like we’re doing a great thing.”
11 October 2022
HR News Article