On the last day of business at the 56th Convention, the IAFF hosted a roundtable on behavioral health. The IAFF’s wealth of resources, including its peer support program and the IAFF Center of Excellence, was at the forefront of the discussion.

General President Edward Kelly and General Secretary-Treasurer Frank Líma were joined on the roundtable panel by retired New York Uniformed Fire Officers Association Local 854 member Frank Leto, Dr. Suzy Gulliver, Center of Excellence Medical Director Dr. Abby Morris, National Director of Business Development of Edgewood Health Network (EHN) of Canada Darrin Taylor and IAFF Department of Occupational Health and Medicine Behavioral Specialist Scott Robinson.

“In the last few years, we have built the largest peer support program in existence,” said Leto, who sits on the IAFF Behavioral Health Committee and on the advisory board to the IAFF Center of Excellence. “Because we have trained peer support counselors within hundreds of IAFF locals, the IAFF has the ability to send counselors where they are needed a moment’s notice.”

For members who need more intensive behavioral health treatment, especially for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction, the doors of the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, have been open since March 5, 2017. The center offers around-the-clock treatment by doctors and clinicians who are trained to treat fire fighters and paramedics.

Over the last five years, the personnel have learned more about the treatment needs of IAFF members and have adapted accordingly.

“When we opened the center, we expected PTSD, depression and substance abuse,” said Dr. Morris, the center’s medical director. “We did not expect so many to come in wounded from childhood trauma. We modified our treatment plant to accommodate this, and we continue to make changes to better serve our patients.”

Dr. Morris also noted that one thing that impacting fire fighter behavioral health is sleep deprivation as it exacerbates PTSD, depression, and a variety of other issues.

Plans to open a second Center of Excellence on the West Coast are in progress. To assist members in Canada, the IAFF has partnered with the Edgewood Health Network (EHN).

“We have seven facilities across Canada that offer inpatient therapy, outpatient therapy and several specialized programs,” said Taylor. “Having multiple facilities at our disposal helps prevent waitlists. If a fire fighter is in crisis but the closest center is full, the EHN will escort that fire fighter to a facility with an opening.”

Taylor also discussed another important benefit offered by the EHN, which is post-treatment care. He said, “If we don’t continue to monitor our patients, we haven’t provided sufficient care and the patient may regress.”

The IAFF is always looking for ways to improve behavioral health assistance and treatment.

“The IAFF and its partners keep assessing and modifying. That’s how we get better,” said Dr. Gulliver. “That is why I am very excited about our new research project, Project Combust. The data we collect will equip IAFF affiliate leaders with the essential information they need to negotiate safer working conditions and adequate staffing.”

To collect this data, the IAFF sent out a survey on Aug. 5. More than 5,000 IAFF members have already filled it out.

Dr. Gulliver also expressed excitement for Project Access – a telehealth service that has been tested with 84 patients. Additional counselors can also be trained to successfully deliver treatment in this manner, she continued.

Many other programs are in development at the IAFF. “I want to be proactive, not reactive,” said Robinson, who is a peer support master instructor. “We are getting ready to launch a recovery specialist program and an emotional regulations class. We also hope to create something specific to our members who are emergency medical personnel.”

Visit www.iaff.org/behavioral-health to learn more about IAFF behavioral health programming.