Gail Rosenblum
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We bring everything we have to our workplaces — including stress. It’s hard to feel productive and fulfilled when we’re preoccupied with relationship challenges, financial strains and concerns about children and aging parents. While we might be open to seeking mental health support, who has time or money? An innovative model launching this month offers a potentially significant solution. Fairview Health’s Behavioral Health and Well-Being program brings licensed mental health professionals to the workplace at no charge to individuals on an ongoing basis. Rene Coult-Calendine, vice president of development, shares the program’s goals and her hope for a new way to talk about overall well-being.

Q: You believe this model goes well beyond the traditional, and typically underutilized, Employee Assistance Programs. How so?

A: There are many good EAPs. In a lot of ways, they’re very important in that they offer quick and easy access for everything from eldercare to financial and legal assistance. But they offer only limited counseling and no long-term support. Plus they tend to be impersonal, operating sometimes out of another state via phone. That’s likely why the average EAP is used by just 3 to 5 percent of an employer’s workforce. We’re trying to extend the EAP idea by making help more accessible and broad. We’re offering a single point of contact for all issues related to behavioral health including chronic conditions. It’s a more personal, high-touch approach that guides people to needed services.

Q: And aside from quick on-site access, you’ll offer important ongoing support.

A: The biggest benefit is that people can get in very quickly, maybe even that day. We want to encourage people to come in early before a problem gets out of hand. But we’ll also offer ongoing support to make sure employees continue to feel good and to prevent recurrences.

Q: As you developed this program, what did you learn about employers’ needs?

A: Behavioral health issues are always in their top five concerns — the ability of their workforce to be productive: to concentrate, focus, get to work. Also, recognizing that it is often challenging for individuals to figure out where to go for help and to get quick and convenient access to behavioral health support.

Q: Tell us about the launch.

A: We’re just starting to set up meetings with employers to talk about the new program. We have had several employers, as well as brokers, reach out to us about the program as well. There is growing market interest, in that this program offers a solution that is new to the market. We’ll assign at least one mental health specialist to each location and are customizing based on the professional’s expertise, as well as the size and need of the employee group.

Q: What kind of customization?

A: Some employers might need more help with anxiety and depression, others with stress and/or addiction concerns. There has been lots in the news about the opioid epidemic. This program is a potential first step in addressing workplace addiction issues.

Q: What training do providers have?

A: They all are certified licensed mental health professionals. We’ve hired our first two providers who both are licensed social workers. It is new thinking to have a social worker on-site but lots of employers are deciding to do it because they’re helping their employees. So many interactions today are digital. We are prioritizing human touch because it is so important.

Q: And no copay?

A: That is correct. Eliminating out-of-pocket costs, such as copays, is one way to reduce the barrier. Employers will pay a per-employee-per-month cost, which will be higher at first than an employee assistance program. The idea is that employers pay upfront, but then their claim costs go way down in the long run. Our goal is to resolve 80 percent of presenting mental health issues with this program.

Q: Some employees might be reticent to seek help at work. How will you address that?

A: We’ll respect that, but I do really think that some of the stigma of mental health issues has gone away. People are stressed and anxious. They could use some support. For those who prefer it, we’re developing other options, such as off-site clinics and telephone support. On the other hand, many employees will likely find the easy access to a professional comforting. It’s important to emphasize that we would never share any information with anyone. People should know and feel that their privacy is always protected.

Q: Is family included?

A: Employees, spouses and children who are 13 and older can all use the program. Parents can encourage their teenagers to make their own appointment, emphasizing that reaching out for mental health support is a wise choice when struggling with issues.

Q: When you look back in a few years, what do you hope to see?

A: Employees and family members who feel supported and who have gotten the help they need. For the employer, I hope for enhanced productivity and meaningful cost savings due to fewer claims. I hope that this outreach will be stigma-breaking, so that employees who need help can ask for it just as easily as if they’d say, “You know what? I have a headache today.”