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Archive for Tuesday, September 28, 2004

City to offer counseling services to its employees

September 28, 2004

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City Hall is starting a $23,000 employee assistance program to offer crisis counseling and other services to its nearly 800 workers.

Officials say helping employees through rough patches in their lives will benefit Lawrence taxpayers in the form of reduced absenteeism, insurance costs and workers' compensation claims.

"There's lots that employees deal with, from an emotional or financial standpoint, that aren't clinical mental health issues, but are situational in nature," said Lori Carnahan, the city's personnel manager.

"Nevertheless, they affect your productivity, your ability to function well," she said. "Short-term counseling has proved beneficial in addressing those issues -- not only from an employee standpoint, but from the organization as well."

The city will contract with New Directions Behavioral Health of Leawood to run the program. The company runs similar programs for Topeka, Overland Park, Olathe, Lenexa and dozens of other cities, Carnahan said.

Aside from counseling, services will include confidential help in stress management, grief and loss assistance, and referrals for chemical dependency treatment and legal and financial assistance.

Officials in Topeka and Overland Park said their employee assistance programs had been in place for more than a decade. Both cities said they had not quantified benefits of the programs.

"It's kind of hard to say what the effectiveness is, because it's confidential," said Sean Reilly, a spokesman for Overland Park. He said about 10 percent of employees there had used the program.

Ruth Maus, a spokeswoman for the city of Topeka, said 6.5 percent of employees there used the program.

"We are hopeful that the mental health provisions would help us offset the mental health claims on our employee health insurance," Maus said.

Carnahan said the new program here would benefit Lawrence city workers with short-term help not offered by the mental health services already covered by employee health insurance. One estimate, she said, showed the city would see a return of $8 for every dollar invested, in terms of increased productivity.

A 1994 study of 50 companies with similar programs showed a decrease in absenteeism and on-the-job accidents, according to a city memorandum.

"They get a more productive work force," Carnahan said of taxpayers. "They get employees who are focused on the job a greater percentage of the time, rather than off-work."

The commission is expected to approve the program at tonight's meeting at 6:35 p.m. in City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

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