Local 911 Leaders Standing Up for 911 Wellness

Is your PSAP going “Strategic” in fostering Wellness? Research from many industries support the savings– in dollars per reduced absenteeism & medical leaves and increased retention– that result from such efforts. And in the past 6 months I’ve had the delight to learn about and lend fuel to some great model efforts put forth by PSAPs around the country to build local 911 wellness programs. This interest and involvment helps fufill the mission of the 911 Wellness Foundation by advancing these exemplary efforts. In this post we introduce a few stories of these Leaders in 911 Wellness. Hopefully these stories will inspire more PSAPs to join the “early adapters” in strategically promoting 911 Wellness. Enjoy!

911 Wellness Leaders, Story 1: Colorado PSAP takes on “Sitting Disease”. A few months ago I received a call from a 911 leader eager to share her PSAP’s commitment to building a local 911 Wellness Program and seeking the Foundation’s help in its design. They were aware that the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) would soon put in force its new Standard on Acute, Traumatic and Chronic Stress Management and these leaders expressed their intent to build a Comprehensive Stress Management Program as proposed in this NENA Standard.

As a first step, they wanted to create a program to prevent “Sitting Disease”–the set of risks for obesity, stroke, heart disease and other health problems which research now correlates with Sedentary Behavior. Since that first conversation we have joined to  study what current research can teach us about the prevention of sitting disease, beginning with the report published on December 12, 2013 by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition: Too Much Sitting: Health Risks for Sedentary Behaviour and Opportunities for Change (Click here to read and download the full report.)  While researchers cannot yet confidently prescribe the best activities leading to prevention, this Colorado 911 center and 911WF are committed to building a pilot project based on the best that current knowledge can teach us.

This project can be revised and refined as more is learned. It’s a good initial effort that will likely lower health risks among this PSAP’s employees and give them evidence that they valued by their leaders, thus boosting morale.  This pilot project can also offer a template others can build on and adapt to fit local center characteristics and in accord with new information about Sitting Disease and its prevention.We’ll reveal the identify of this pioneering PSAP and offer an update as the project unfolds.

911 Wellness Leaders, Story 2: A Wisconsin Center Redesigns the EAP to include EMDR Trauma Treatment. As part of their commitment to prevention of stress-related illness and problems in their PSAP, Madison Wisconsin leaders John Dejung and Gary Bell (now director of Wakesha 911) invited me to conduct training in management of traumatic stress. But this was only one point of their plan to equip their personnel for wellness in the face of 911 stressors. They also were working to develop a ground-breaking Employee Assistance Program (EAP)–one that would not only cover costs of initial mental health counseling for their people but also assure this treatment was provided as needed by licensed professionals specializing in traumatic stress and trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR, click here for more information).

EMDR is one of only three treatments in the world recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense as effective in the treatment of PTSD and is recognized by the 911 Wellness Foundation as a treatment of choice for 911 traumatic stress. (Full disclosure: I receive no remuneration in any form for promoting EMDR. I was trained in EMDR in 1990 and have used it regularly in my clinical practice since then with much gratitude and with great results. ) To date, the only other PSAP in the U.S. to seek such involvement of EMDR therapists in their EAP is Charleston, S.C. for which we commend Director Jim Lake and Deputy Director Allyson Burrell. In addition, the Madison 911 center is working to assure availability Critical Incident Stress Management also within their EAP, and Peer Support services for all their employees.

911 Wellness Leader, Story 3: “Psychological First Aid” Coming for local 911 Pros? Another effort which will remain “in cognito’ since its in the early stages involves a PSAP exploring pursuit of training for their 911Pros in “Psychological First Aid” (PFA) to boost in-house mental health after the worst calls/events. This specific lay-intervention model for first responders originated with the Australian Red Cross. (NOTE: featuring this intervention model does not imply 911WF preference for it over others such as ICISF’s CISM model. We seek to educate the industry about all viable resources that may help prevent traumatic stress within the 911 Workforce.) To read and download the full booklet on PFA click here).

Early adapters throughout the U.S. (beyond our 911 centers) are optimistic that by teaching their personnel to understand mental health struggles among employees and peers they can identify and get help earlier leading to prevention of diseases that impact their well-being, performance, and retention. Early research supports the value of Psychological First Aid and it represents a promising resource for 911 personnel. While the Foundation continues to study models for similar support applauds this PSAP’s pioneering initiative exploring how PFA can help their people, and invites you to learn more about it too.

The effort put forth by these three PSAPs are not featured as “One Size Fits All” solutions for implementation by other centers, especially small PSAPs in rural areas. Rather, the examples provided by these centers can inspire local initiatives to embrace and deliver Comprehensive Stress Management Programs that fit the resources and specific needs of each PSAP. The 911 Wellness Foundation is all about fostering local equipping to prevent illness and promote optimal health among our 911 telecommunicators. One of the best ways we can achieve this mission is to tell the story of frontrunners and bridge the rest of our PSAPs to them for support. So, by all means, if you and your center are taking innovative steps to advance the psychological or physical well-being of your 911Pros, please email me so we can cheer you on, offer support, and when you’re ready, tell your story to the bigger 911 family. Every 911 stakeholder benefits when we take proactive care of the Very First Responder. So, we’re truly all in this together. Thanks for taking time to read this blog. Your reply is encouraged!

Jim Marshall, Chair

Info@911Wellness.com

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