Unified Action: A vision for the future of emergency responder wellness

by Dr. Anna Fitch Courie, Director - Responder Wellness, FirstNet Program at AT&T

December 13, 2023

Leaders across academic, industry, community and first responder organizations gathered for the first time ever on Dec. 5 and 6 to commit to a unified effort to advance the health, wellness and readiness of America’s first responders and their families. This meeting brought to life the vision of the FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition. And it sought to develop action plans to address key recommendations found in the FirstNet - Helping the Helpers White Paper.

To say that I am grateful does not do justice to the profound professional satisfaction I had looking out at the audience and seeing the realization of a 3-year dream come true. Every member in attendance brought the full scope of their knowledge, leadership, expertise and desire to collaborate. Emergency Responder Wellness IS the critical issue of 2024. And we are poised to make a profound difference because these leaders have committed to using one voice to advance advocacy, standards, and evaluation and monitoring.

If you have not yet read the white paper, please do so. The paper provides and in-depth analysis of the current state of emergency responder wellness and outlines five gaps we need to address:

  • Leadership engagement
  • Wellness standards
  • Integration of wellness education throughout the life cycle of a public safety career
  • Resources and funding
  • Communication

Our goal in bringing together leading experts from academia, industry and nonprofit sectors with the FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition was to dive into these recommendations and create a strategy for the path forward.

With the help of the Education Development Center and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, we took those first steps. Again, I want to reiterate the singular commitment from those in attendance. We are building a movement. And that movement will make other leaders pay attention. We discussed many terrific ideas. And we will be doing this work for many years to come. But there were three specific action items that we will address in the next six months and then build out further plans as we put these items into place.

First, the public safety associations will prepare a national resolution listing the specific wellness needs of emergency responders – and what needs to happen at the local, state and federal level to effect change.

Second, the public safety associations have agreed to develop Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) across associations to share best practices, lessons learned and materials to advance the knowledge, research and success across the disciplines. One of the most satisfying aspects of the coalition is how each public safety discipline brings different strengths to the table and is willing to share them. No one has time to recreate the wheel. This sharing of best practices and lessons learned will create efficiencies and improve the effectiveness of programs.

Finally, the Summit attendees agreed that the Coalition work has advanced to a point where we need to create working groups. We have agreed to establish three specific groups:  Communication and Advocacy, Wellness Standards, and Research and Evaluation.

The public safety associations have agreed to support these working groups with experts from their own fields. We also intend to make the First Responder Wellness Summit an annual opportunity for leadership to engage in person. This will give them dedicated time to work through the issues and improve the network of partnerships across all of public safety. With the leadership of the Education Development Center and continued support from FirstNet, Built with AT&T and other academic partners, we commit to advancing public safety wellness from 2024 and beyond.

There is hope for the future in the mental health and wellness of our public safety professionals. And I am gratified that there are so many people committed to this vision.

Dr. Anna Fitch Courie, Director of Responder Wellness, FirstNet Program at AT&T is a nurse, Army wife, former university faculty, 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.  Anna’s area of expertise is integration of public health strategy across disparate organizations to achieve health improvement goals. Anna is a passionate Clemson football fan; loves to read, cook, walk, hike; and prior to COVID19, was an avid traveler.

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