$400K to aid mental health for Arizona first responders

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Arizona Attorney General Brnovich announced that his office awarded nearly $400,000 in grants to community organizations that provide mental health treatment and services to first responders.

The organizations will assist firefighters, emergency medical services, and law enforcement across the state.

Four different grants were awarded to organizations, including the United Phoenix Firefighters, EMPACT Suicide Prevention, and Marana Health Center. Over 2,000 first responders and first responder families are expected to be served statewide over the next year through direct treatment, mental health services, and training.

“Our first responders are always there for us and we’re going to be there for them too,” Mr. Brnovich stated. “These funds will help drive mental health education and services that support the continued well-being and fitness of our heroes.”

United Phoenix Firefighters

The United Phoenix Firefighters received $159,920 to support two mental health support initiatives. The first program will serve firefighters and law enforcement by developing and implementing an intensive outpatient program for first responders dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse. Twenty first responders per week will be served by this program as a result of this grant.

The second grant will provide funds for the hiring of a Behavioral Heath case manager who will work to increase membership in Firestrong, an existing web platform that provides a peer support network, crisis support line, and other important resources for Arizona fire departments and firefighters. This grant will help serve another 50 fire departments per year.

“Our proactive approach to managing the effects of PTSD and behavioral health have been instrumental in keeping first responders healthy and capable,” said Steve Beuerlein, United Phoenix Firefighters. “The grants awarded by the Arizona Attorney General’s will give our programs some much needed resources to continually grow and improve.”

EMPACT Suicide Prevention

EMPACT Suicide Prevention received $100,000 to provide first responder peer navigation services, connect individuals to evidence-based treatment, train first responder professionals in mental health first-aid, and implement first responder wellness conferences across the state.

EMPACT, which has more than 30 years serving the community by providing recovery-based services, will implement Support for Arizona First-Responder Project, which is designed to meet the unique needs of Arizona’s first responders and increase mental health self-awareness, provide hands-on support, and seamless access to treatment for first responders.

About 280 first responders will receive services as a result of this new grant.

“Arizona first responders are at greater risk for behavioral health related problems due to the constant exposure to death and trauma, but are often reluctant, resistant or ill-prepared to access care and treatment due to the ‘culture’ of the profession,” said Erica Chestnut-Ramirez, EMPACT-Suicide Prevention Center. “SAFeR is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of first responders by helping to change the narrative and mindset from ‘Be strong and keep things to yourself’ to ‘Be strong and take care of yourself.’”

Marana Health Care

$96,249 was awarded to Marana Health Care to provide training for clinical professionals, community members, first responder family members, and enhance a peer support program with a goal to help identify when first responders are having difficulties and help them get the treatment they need when they’re experiencing mental health-related challenges. More than 50 first responders will be provided direct services and another 400 will be served through valuable training as a result of this grant.

The month of May is Mental Health Month. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has reported that first responders are more likely than members of the general public to develop behavioral health problems, including depression and PTSD, as a result of exposure to trauma, life-threatening situations, and the physical strain of working long hours in the line of duty.

According to a study cited by SAMHSA, 37% of fire and EMS professionals have contemplated suicide, nearly 10 times the rate of American adults. It is estimated that 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions including depression and PTSD, as compared with 20% in the general population.

Funding for this grant was provided by fees and penalties obtained from a settlement negotiated by the Attorney General’s Office with Wells Fargo. During the 2019 legislative session, the Attorney General’s Office worked with Rep. Kelly Townsend to secure $400,000 in grant funding to support first responders who experience PTSD, depression, and other forms of stress and mental trauma.

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