The FirstNet© Health and Wellness Program: A commitment to addressing first responder needs
May 13, 2021
First responders experience higher rates of depression, post-traumatic stress, burnout, anxiety, and other issues1,2,3 compared with the general population.
Consequently, there is a growing movement towards supporting the mental, physical, spiritual health of first responders in an effort to get upstream from the problems they face as a result of the service they provide to our communities.
To engage in support responder health and wellness, AT&T established the FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition in October of 2020. The mission of this coalition was to integrate responder, community, industry, and academic capabilities to support the health, wellness, and readiness of American First Responders. This effort is bringing together over 20 public safety organizations to strategically identify the most critical priorities facing first responders and lend its resources to creating meaningful solutions.
The FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition will
- Establish a framework in which to integrate leadership across first responder professions;
- Assess and analyze existing data on first responder health and wellness needs;
- Identify key priorities for action;
- Facilitate action planning in which to address priorities; and
- Evaluate the effectiveness of activities for future planning and activities.
Currently, the coalition is analyzing the results from the First Responder Needs Assessment sent out December 2020 through January 2021. This survey collected 368 full data sets across multiple first responder disciplines including law enforcement, fire, emergency management, dispatch, paramedics, and emergency medical.
These data demonstrate awareness of the mental and physical stressors facing the respondents including post-traumatic stress, depression, access to mental healthcare and drug and alcohol abuse concerns. The data also indicated areas in which responders wanted to engage in improving their wellness through stress management, physical fitness, wellness coaching and resilience training.
Finally, the respondents shared barriers to engaging in wellness activities such as not enough time, work-life balance struggles, the cost of activities, and a lack of awareness of resources.
The respondents shared valuable ways to engage first responders in their health and wellness needs. Specifically, the respondents wanted to see their leadership engaging in health and wellness, not just speaking to it.
One respondent remarked: “Leadership needs to be involved with this [wellness] at the same level as other staff and provide funding and participation that shows their real support.”
The analysis of over 200 free text responses demonstrated comments that supported the quantitative data and provided rich contextual input surrounding first responders needs in mental health, sleep issues, family member support, needed training and programs, and addressing stress and leadership engagement.
Additionally, the respondents felt that organizations need to provide awards and incentives for participation, increased amplification of wellness programs and identify standards for well-developed first responder programs. These results are promising as they indicated first responders are aware of their health and wellness needs and risk factors. They see the barriers that may prevent them from engaging. And they offered insight into solutions that may help improve first responder health and wellness activities.
The First Responder Needs Assessment is one piece of the process the FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition is using to drive its efforts. Collaborating with public safety is facilitating innovation, dialog, and solutions that will help to systematically develop action plans to address these top concerns. These action plans are the critical next step in ensuring our activities support the most pressing health and wellness needs of the population we seek to serve: first responders.
Take a look at the questions posed to respondents in the First Responder Needs Assessment survey.
Dr. Anna Courie, Director of Responder Wellness, FirstNet Program at AT&T is a nurse, Army wife, former adjunct professor, and author. Anna holds a Bachelor’s in Nursing from Clemson University; a Master’s in Nursing Education from the University of Wyoming; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Ohio State University. She is a passionate Clemson football fan; loves to read, cook, walk, hike; and prior to COVID-19, was an avid traveler.
1 Heyman, M., Dill, J.; & Douglas, R. (2018). The Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders. Ruderman Family Foundation.
2 Benedek, D., Fullerton, C., and Ursano, R. (2007). First responders: Mental health consequences of natural and human-made disasters for public health and safety workers. Annual Review of Public Health. 28: 55-68.
3 Substance Abuse, Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2018). Disaster Technical Assistance Center Supplemental Research Bulletin: First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma. Retrieved from: First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma (samhsa.gov)