June 24, 2024

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New Arkansas law covers mental healthcare for first responders

3 min read

In the case of a traumatic event, public entities are now required to ensure coverage of counseling resources for public safety employees.

ARKANSAS, USA — As first responders answer calls for help, they often encounter difficult situations, with trauma that stays with them. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), firefighters and law enforcement officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

Over the years, Fayetteville Police Sgt. Tony Murphy says he’s seen an increase in public safety mental health awareness.

“In the past 10 years, there’s not a stigma on … utilizing your employee assistance program or calling the peer-to-peer counseling team. That is something that is pushed,” Murphy said. “We want [our officers] to be mentally healthy, and if they need help, we want to be there for them.”

Throughout his 20-year tenure, Murphy has experienced many different events but the one that sticks with him the most is an officer dying a few years ago. 

“The death of Stephen Carr, you know, that was something a lot of officers had to deal with, one of our own being shot down and killed behind our police department. So I think that’s something that each one of us has had to deal with that was here at that time,” Murphy said. “During that time the city and the police department already had a lot of stuff in place to help employees that were dealing with critical incidents. And we have policies and procedures regarding that.”

The Springdale Fire Department is a public entity that has mental health initiatives to help firefighters through traumatic events. 

“We have a robust mental health initiative and that starts with our peer support program. That is members of the department that can be contacted if somebody’s having a difficult time or dealing with a difficult situation,” Assistant Chief Michael Bronner said. “We also have an in-house or contracted LPC, so a licensed professional counselor that does a lot of our annual behavioral assessments, and also provides counseling for any of our employees that need it.”

Under a new state law that took effect on Jan. 1, public agencies must fund counseling services for public safety employees who experience a traumatic event while on duty. Act 537 includes firefighters, police officers, probation officers, surveillance officers, and juvenile detention officers. 

“We want to be a lot more proactive, not just dealing with after the traumatic events, but also building up positive mechanisms that our employee is going to have to be resilient and have a long, successful career and retire healthy,” Bronner said. 

In bigger cities, such as Fayetteville, most public safety entities already have programs in place to help with traumatic events.

“We have avenues that officers can use, we have a peer-to-peer team, where you can speak to a peer, another officer who’s experienced something similar to what you’re experiencing, we also have the employee assistance program that the city provides for us,” Murphy said.

Paramedics are also covered by this law if they work for a public entity. However, those who work for a private company are not included.

“An entitled entity would be a fire department of a class one or class two city and being class one city and being an employee of the fire department. All of our members are qualified for the Act 537,” Bronner said. 

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