Over the past several months, I’ve had the distinct honor to help present what I believe is a game changer for mental health benefits for first responders. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit with the police and fire departments of a city in Texas and have a frank conversation about what their officers and fire fighters are dealing with and what types of help they need.

As an insurance consultant, I know all the ins and outs of their benefit plan and what it covers. I know the plan from an “insurance” perspective. It’s quite another thing, though, to sit in front of the Chiefs and Sergeants and hear them tell you firsthand about their struggles when dealing with the same insurance plan I helped to design.

The meeting was eye opening — not because I haven’t heard it before — but because I’ve heard it too often lately. The Chief of Police was very candid in sharing that he didn’t know where he would send an officer for inpatient mental health care. In fact, his exact words, “I guess I would Google it.” This is not OK! I must do better as an insurance consultant, and we must do better as cities and employers that provide benefits. The Chiefs of both departments agreed 100 percent that they needed our help and actually thanked HR for bringing this first responder EAP to them as an option (which never happens). The last step in our process was to get the City Manager’s office approval.

The questions I got back from the City Manager’s office…

  1. What is the difference between our EAP and this First Responder EAP? Isn’t our current program enough? In short, no. It’s not enough. If it were enough, your Fire Chief wouldn’t have shared that he knows of at least five guys who show up to work drunk. Your Police Chief wouldn’t have shared that he has no peer support program and doesn’t know how to get his officers help.
  1. How bad was the spike in claims costs the first year for other organizations that implemented this First Responder EAP? We are talking about a program that will cost the city less than $10k a year (A YEAR) to put in place for all their first responders and families of first responders. A program that WILL save lives — I’ve seen it firsthand. I can talk to you all day long about ROI, but here is the truth — what is a life worth to you? You tell me the dollar amount and then we can have a conversation about the “spike in claims cost.”

We have a problem today with first responders not getting the help they need. We helped create this problem — insurance, city leadership, and the job itself. We need to do better. What we are doing today is NOT OK.