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Cumberland County announces counseling assistance program for first responders

Cumberland County officials said between 2019 and 2021, they saw a 23% jump in the need for mental health resources among EMS workers.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. — Among Cumberland County's first responders, both physical and mental pressures are piling up as they approach the year three marker of the pandemic. 

"The stress levels are up, [and] we have a lack of volunteers in the department," said Chief Randy O'Donnell of the Carlisle Borough Volunteer Fire Department.

To help with ongoing stressors, Cumberland County announced a new First Responders Assistance Program on Tuesday.

The initiative will provide licensed therapists and counselors to the volunteers and staff workers at the county's Emergency Medical Services (EMS), fire and law enforcement departments. This is to help workers deal with a number of issues they may be facing including trauma, stress, depression, anxiety, grief, eating disorders, gambling and substance use.

"We believe this program will help us meet what many consider to be the core purpose of our lives here on Earth," said Gary Eichelberger, a Cumberland County Commissioner.

The assistance program is partnering with On The Job and Off, an organization that connects first responders with therapists who are trained to understand emergency services careers.

"This type of care is vital for first responders, and with this program, we are not putting any additional pressures on the already heavily-utilized county programs currently in place," said Eichelberger.

Although the program was presented to county commissioners in 2018, it was not approved until November 2021.

"[In] 2018, we had been experiencing the opioid crisis, and then, with COVID coming up we just figured now is the time to do something,"  said Vince Difilippo, a Cumberland County Commissioner.

During a meeting on Nov. 15 last year, County Commissioners approved $49,320 to fund the program. Some believe other municipalities in Pennsylvania will adopt similar initiatives.

"The other counties are going to see it, [and] experience the benefit of it, and I think you're going to see other counties jump on board," said O'Donnell.

Funding is budgeted for five years, and County Commissioners say they hope to renew the program in the future.

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