APCO’s inaugural Wellness Summit took place February 6 in Atlanta and welcomed close to 200 attendees from all over the U.S. and Canada. Health and wellness in 9-1-1 has been discussed in many formats and the Summit was an opportunity for attendees to share face-to-face, be vulnerable and take home the tools they need to create successful wellness programs back at their agencies.
APCO President Becky Neugent kicked off the Summit by asking tablemates to introduce themselves and then handed over the mic to Ryan Chambers and Becki Green who shared their personal stories highlighting how traumas can impact performance in the workplace and how trauma experienced in the workplace can spill over into personal life.
Mr. Chambers explained that sharing personal journeys to resilience can be particularly powerful to give others the courage to share their stories as well. He also shared that “If it wasn’t for my people surrounding me, I don’t know where I would be today,” emphasizing the power of peer support.
Ms. Green talked about feeling alone and not being able to talk to her coworkers or family about her struggles with mental health until one day a fellow telecommunicator reached out recognizing she was struggling. “The power of peer support is someone recognizing that you’re not doing good and having the courage to talk to you about it,” said Becki. “If you’re dying inside, you can’t save someone else. That is why I’m a huge advocate for peer support.”
The first session was followed by a guided meditation and recognition that audience members may have been triggered by the earlier discussion. Some of the attendees offered their peer support services to anyone who needed it at that time.
The next presentation was a panel discussion with representatives from FGM Architects and the Cook County 9-1-1 Center on the design and environment changes that can be implemented in the emergency communications center to reduce stress and improve employee morale. Among other things, Raymond Lee from FGM Architects explained how to reduce stress by engaging all the senses through design elements that incorporate color theory, texture and connections to nature. Leanna Carlson from the Cook County 9-1-1 Center described how beneficial it has been to create a workplace that employees want to be in and where they feel pride and purpose in their profession.
Following was a panel that consisted of members from the Health and Wellness Committee who led a discussion on best practices for peer support programs in emergency communications centers (ECCs). To engage the audience the panelists used a tool to get questions submitted in real time and projected to the screen for the panelists to answer. They answered questions regarding how to select personnel to serve on a peer support team, how to engage employees in the program, and how to build off the peer support team to implement additional wellness initiatives. Among the advice provided, Mr. Chambers stated that “peer support is needed for all ranks. Managers and supervisors need support too.” One recommendation was to reach out to peer support groups from other agencies to give those who need help anonymity.
Following lunch, Melissa Alterio of Cobb County 9-1-1 discussed how to build a culture in the ECC that supports wellness and employee wellbeing. Ms. Alterio highlighted that ECC personnel can promote a wellness culture by aligning initiatives with the core values of the ECC personnel, promoting trust, resiliency, appreciation, teamwork, integrity, and transparency, and creating an environment that is performance-focused and psychologically safe for personnel. “You have to be consistently optimistic,” said Melissa. “It is the only way to lead the organization to a positive change.”
Next Jim Marshall of the 911 Institute discussed how to initiate healing by working with mental health clinicians. Mr. Marshall provided advice on how to find qualified mental health professionals to work with and suggested the first step is to seek out personal recommendations from others who have worked with clinicians. He also emphasized the need to fix or replace employee assistant programs to better meet the needs of 9-1-1 professionals.
After a break that included guided chair yoga, attendees heard from Ryan Chambers, Mindbase, and Alison Venable, Government Relations Counsel with APCO International, on the benefits of support dogs in the ECC and for individuals. The highlight of the panel discussion was Chase, Mr. Chambers’ therapy dog, on stage and walking through the audience looking for pets and offering comfort after a long day. The panel highlighted the processes for training and certifying a comfort or service dog, standard operating procedures for bringing a comfort dog to an ECC, and how to move forward with making the decision.
At the end of the day, attendees had notes and lists of action items to bring back to their agencies as well as new friendships that were formed through the process of sharing and support. Thank you to everyone who joined us in Atlanta, and thank you to our sponsors who helped make the Summit possible.