The Ottumwa Courier

March 2, 2013

Keeping employees employed

New contract to provide city employees, dependents with mental health services

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — City staff could soon receive mental health help from the Southern Iowa Mental Health Center.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Ottumwa City Council will vote to approve an Employee Assistance Program agreement between the city and SIMHC to provide mental health assistance to city employees and their dependents.

The city’s current EAP provides counseling and guidance for various issues that could affect an employee’s job performance.

The city’s prior contract with Ottumwa Regional Health Center was withdrawn by ORHC last year.

“EAP is a little bit unique in that it’s an employee benefit where employers can purchase mental health therapy sessions for employees at a discounted rate if they’re having some kind of issue that’s interfering with their job performance,” said SIMHC executive director Christina Schark.

This is meant to be short-term therapy, she said. City employees and their family members would be able to utilize the clinic services for up to five sessions per fiscal year without charge. Any additional sessions would be the sole responsibility of the employee.

“If the city wanted to make a referral for someone they thought was needing some kind of mental health services, they can come here at a discounted rate that the employer pays for and it doesn’t go through the employee’s insurance,” Schark said. “It’s a way for an employer to look at different options before taking a disciplinary route.”

Schark said SIMHC has approximately 10 EAP contracts with organizations in the area.

“We believe that sometimes mental health issues can interfere with work performance, work safety and compliance,” she said. “If an employer is willing to take an active role in helping, they’ll have more productive employees in the long run. It’s a more active role on the employer’s end of saying, ‘I really care about you and can tell there’s something going on that is starting to affect your job performance.’”

Sometimes, employers will ask for EAP agreements if the organization’s health insurance does not offer mental health benefits.

“But we’ll see that less and less as the Affordable Care Act is rolled out,” Schark said. “Ten years ago when I worked at Ottumwa Regional, that was more common.”

The ultimate goal is to keep the employee employed.

“It’s much less costly to pay for a mental health specialist for a few sessions than to terminate, advertise, re-hire and train,” she said. “Most would rather keep the same person and meet them halfway.”

The council will also discuss:

• Approving the proposed 2013-14 city budget

• Recommendations from the Ottumwa Public Safety Advisory Board.

The council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at City Hall. The meeting will air live on GO-TV, cable channel 6.