Cumberland County unveils new mental health counseling program for first responders

Being a first responder is not for the faint of heart. It has never been.

Those who serve in this capacity often deal with a traumatic event. Sometimes, they have to deal with the repercussions of some of the worst actions we can take as human beings.

But in Cumberland County, the business may have become more sympathetic, if not more gentle and kind.

This is due to the First Responder Assistance Network, a new county-funded program that aims to provide specialized occupational counseling and treatment to all police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and dispatch center workers who — after a particularly bad case, or backlog of bad situations — indicate they need To someone to lean on a little.

The new program is an outgrowth of the volunteer-based Critical Incident Stress Management team that started in 2018.

There, peer group members were trained in active listening and trying to help their colleagues work through their struggles by bonding with them. The new Help Network is an extension of that for those who need professional help, said Michael Snyder, 911 Supervisor and CISM Team Manager.

The Cumberland program, which qualifies on a free and confidential basis to all volunteers or professional responders, is offered by State College’s First Responder Counseling Service On The Job And Off, which specifically educates counselors on the internal and external matters of emergency services practices.

Like, for example, what does it mean for a person to die in your arms, full of fear? Or to discover the bodies of young children at the scene of the fire? How about killing a colleague in the line of duty?

It is very clear that the losses these things take are real.

At the start of Tuesday, in the presence of police chiefs, emergency medical teams, fire chiefs and others, the group was asked how many they knew of a colleague who left the field in the first place because they saw enough of this type of trauma, and found themselves unable or unwilling to do so. To put themselves in the position of having to process anymore.

Almost everyone present raised their hands.

Snyder explained that as a transmitter, his job “is kind of like watching a TV show where you can only watch five minutes in the middle. You don’t really know what led to that point, and you often don’t know what happens at the end. But you’re very engaged in the middle part.” And sometimes our brains don’t like that kind of interaction.

“We like things to make sense, and if you don’t have something that makes sense sometimes, try filling in the blanks: ‘Why did this happen?’ “What can I do differently? And these kinds of situations that happen day after day, week after week, month after month, they can be very difficult for our employees to deal with… They provide stress that we really need to help them manage.”

But it is a problem that has not received much direct attention until very recently.

“When I became an EMT in 2008, I think there was one paragraph in our textbook that was stress-intensive,” said Ali Rothrock, CEO and Principal Instructor at On The Job And Off. a call. We can tell you about all the equipment we carry. How to take it apart, clean it up and put it back together…but the training ends there. “

First Responder Assistance offers support that can touch any variety of problems, including stress, depression, anxiety, grief, eating disorders, gambling, substance abuse and more. It also includes crisis intervention and group debriefing for departments and clear pathways to inpatient mental health or substance abuse treatment.

The county has a five-year services contract with Rothrock that provides 300 hours of clinical service at a base cost of $49,320; Additional services will be charged at the hourly rate as needed.

Participating first responders will be referred to the program on a case-by-case basis through the current peer-to-peer counseling program.

Snyder commended the county commissioners for agreeing to this enhancement of the existing program, which he said is a huge benefit in a county as diverse as Cumberland.

“The last thing we wanted to happen was that some first responders had access to it (consulting help) if they were from a more affluent community, and some first responders didn’t have access to it if they were from a slightly smaller community and they didn’t have the financial resources,” Snyder said.

County Public Safety Director Robert Shefley Jr. said he hopes the new service will pay off for all county residents by keeping more first responders in the field and in their best condition.

“I really hope this helps with retention… and I am once again trying to protect our existing responders and do what we can to make sure they don’t get burned and lost through calls,” he said.

Snyder agreed.

All agencies are having a hard time operating like most companies these days. So the things that we can do to retain the people who are already on board who are already trained and who already know their communities are very worthwhile and very cost-effective.”