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EAPs Promote Crisis Services

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The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have forced employers and their benefits advisors to pay more attention to critical incident assistance programs.

For about $25 per employee per year, or about 0.6% of the cost of a major medical plan, an employer can buy an employee assistance program that offers crisis support services along with counseling and referral services for troubled employees.

A good EAP can arrange a “stress debriefing,” or group counseling session, for employees affected by a major disaster.

Adding a work-life assistance hotline that can give detailed advice on locating emergency help costs about $10 per employee per year, and adding a “concierge service” that actually does some of the legwork itself costs about $20 per employee per year, experts interviewed estimate.

Traditionally, benefits brokers have thought of crisis support programs as a tiny, obscure sliver of the benefits package.

The few companies that buy a concierge service usually buy it to help high-paid workers cope with 80-hour work weeks, not to help employees survive major disasters, says Greg Bayer, president of the workplace behavioral unit at Magellan Health Services Inc., Bethesda, Md.

“The broker-agent distribution channel is probably not aware of [the concierge service], by and large,” Bayer says.

But, when a disaster strikes and effective emergency assistance is available, “it bonds that employee to the employer in an irrevocable way,” according to Dr. Richard Chaifetz, chief executive of ComPsych Corp., Chicago, a behavioral benefits company.

Although the Sept. 11 attacks created a mammoth need for crisis services, street crime, natural disasters and smaller terrorist attacks have always generated a steady stream of crisis calls, Chaifetz says.

More than 62 million U.S. residents now have EAP services, up from 29 million in 1995, according to the OPEN MINDS Yearbook of Managed Behavioral Health Market Share in the United States 2000-2001.

Its not clear how many of the EAPs offer effective crisis support programs, Chaifetz says.

“They should be a part of all EAP offerings,” Chaifetz says. “When something happens, you better have [the programs] in place.”

Chaifetz and Bayer also emphasize the importance of offering high-quality counseling sessions for all employees and practical support services for managers.

Managers need to know what to tell employees who are afraid to come back to work, Bayer says.

Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 8, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.

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