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Upcoming improvements to the Employee Assistance Program


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Senior Executive Leslie Weldon, Work Environment and Performance Office

To sustain the health of our forests and grasslands, we must also sustain the health of our employees, and so, over the past few years, the Executive Leadership Team and the National Leadership Council have committed to focusing on employee safety. Safety is one of our agency’s core values, and we expanded its definition to fully include physical, social and psychological safety. Your health and wellness are critical elements of our work environment and our mission—they are interdependent outcomes, not secondary or separate. Meeting this intent requires us to ensure we are providing the best services to employees. As you spoke and we listened: we heard that our Employee Assistance Program needed to be improved, and that’s what we’ve set out to do.  

The EAP is one aspect of support we provide to you as employees. It offers professional guidance to you and your family members when personal or work-related problems become too difficult to manage alone. It also supports many life skills such as financial planning and wellness. The EAP offers free assessments, short-term counseling and referral information to you and your family members so you can better manage many of life’s difficulties. 

Currently, the Forest Service operates 20 Employee Assistance Programs across the agency using five different providers. This has resulted in differing levels of services and, in many cases, confusion among employees who don’t know who or where to call. Our employees deserve better.  

Beginning in October*, the Forest Service will begin to transition to one single agency-wide EAP contract for every employee. There will be one phone number, one website, one app, for each of our 40,000 employees and their families. 

You will all have access to benefits provided by the EAP. That includes 1039 (temporary) and administratively determined appointments, permanent full-time, permanent part-time, permanent seasonal, and Resource Assistant and Pathways employees. Our goal is make sure everyone receives consistent, quality support and services. 

The new EAP provider will ensure that every phone call is answered by an experienced master’s-level licensed clinician. The clinicians will use a “Clinical First Answer” model to support callers fully, ensuring no caller in crisis is ever placed on hold or transferred to a non-clinical staff member. The new EAP provider will also have clinicians trained and experienced with traumatic events, who are able to care for our emergency responders when necessary.  

The new EAP contract will include various ways to access care and support, including in-person, video, telephone, chat/text or online messaging counseling. This new method will ensure that we meet you where you are comfortable, providing the most effective communications options for everyone. If you need a higher level of care, a “warm hand off” will be facilitated by the provider to connect you with their personal health insurance, mental health provider network, or available free services. 

We have also increased the work-life menu of tools and resources above many of the existing program’s levels to help you navigate many of life’s challenges. Some of these resources include access to legal forms, financial calculators, concierge services, coaching, mindfulness-based stress reduction training and help with personal and professional development goals. 

In addition to taking a step towards consistency in program delivery, we are also ready to engage with our new vendor to manage issues as they arise, so employees receive the full benefits from the program. When you struggle to get connected with services, you will be able to report issues and get support from Forest Service staff. Additionally, we will begin to work with you to help you understand the array of services and how to be excellent consumers of these services.

An Employee Assistance Program is just a suite of services that can be accessed. If we fail to empower and support you so you understand the options and how to access them, we will also fail to make the most of this investment in employee well-being.  

As our new contract gets underway, my hope is that you will begin to engage in the services, report concerns when you have them and help us improve upon this new iteration of the program. This is an investment into your well-being; I encourage you to take advantage of the resources that are a fit for you. I welcome all feedback on your experience.

If you have any questions about the upcoming EAP contract, please contact Shelly Pacheco, national EAP coordinator, at shelly.pacheco@usda.gov

*While most regions and stations will transition to the new contract in October, regions 1, 3, 4 and 6 will transition to the new contract on a rolling basis once their current contracts end. Please visit the Forest Service Mental Health Roadmap if you have questions about your current EAP provider. 
 

https://www.fs.usda.gov/inside-fs/leadership/upcoming-improvements-employee-assistance-program