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Maine FD sees benefits with full-time mental health coordinator

Portland’s in-house mental health coordinator cuts the costs of sending firefighters out of state for support

By Bill Carey

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland Fire Department is seeing several benefits from hiring a full-time mental health coordinator in their efforts to improve firefighter wellbeing.

The mental health coordinator position was supported by city officials and the firefighters’ union, News Center Maine reported.

Portland Fire Chief Keith Gautreau said that previously, firefighters had access to specialized support at the IAFF Center for Excellence, a behavioral treatment and recovery center in Maryland, and the Brattleboro Retreat, a similar center in Vermont.

Gautreau has sent more than 10 of his firefighters away to the centers in Maryland and Vermont.

“It can be up to a month, three months, six months of people being out,” he said. “We have had people out for over a year.”

Oliver Bradeen, the department’s employee assistance program coordinator, said firefighters are increasingly seeking help.

“Several people have been coming proactively which is an approach we are trying to take where people aren’t waiting until they are having their worst day ever,” Bradeen said. “They are coming kind of like, ‘I’m not sure if I have to be here, but I just wanted to talk and make sure I’m doing OK.’ And that’s what we are trying to push. Let’s not wait until it’s a problem; let’s try to keep you sort of as healthy as we can.”

The department has spent more than $300,000 in mental health efforts in the past two years after hiring Bradeen. That equals $150,000 per year, which for them is one percent of their annual $30 million budget.

Division Chief for Emergency Medical Services and Training Sean Donaghue said the department has seen more than an 80% drop in their members seeking out-of-state, in-patient assistance since Bradeen started.

“The program is successful because it is a system, not just one person in an office,” Donaghue said. “The Portland Fire Department has had a robust peer support system for over a decade, which enables it to engage with the member’s mental health actively and in an ongoing way.”

Key benefits of the in-house position are:

  • No insurance billing and out-of-pocket payments to see the EAP coordinator
  • Rapid access. Everyone is seen within two weeks of the request, sometimes the same week.
  • Session times are dictated by treatment best practices and client needs.
  • Success is seen with the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Acute Stress Adaptive Protocol (ASAP) for critical incidents.

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