LSF Health Systems launches new mental health program for Alachua County first responders

Scott Surrency

Press release from LSF Health Systems

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – LSF Health Systems, a behavioral health Managing Entity (ME), is among six organizations in Florida that received $12 million in funding from the state to create or expand existing first responder peer-based services. 

Statistics show nearly 30% of first responders will develop a behavioral health condition, including but not limited to depression and PTSD, during the course of their career. In addition, firefighters were reported to have higher suicide attempt and ideation rates than the general population; studies also show between 125-300 law enforcement officers commit suicide every year. LSF Health Systems’ new First Responder Peer Support Program hopes to change those numbers. 

The program is made up of trained peer specialists, who are current or former first responders or members of the military. It spans 20 counties in Northeast and Northern Central Florida, including Alachua County. These peer specialists will provide confidential and free support to first responders and their family members.

Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO of LSF Health Systems, says switching from on-duty to off-duty isn’t easy for first responders. “They regularly answer calls that can impact their safety, sense of humanity, and capacity for empathy,” she said. “We at LSF Health Systems want this program to break down the stigma surrounding mental health – for first responders to consider it preventative maintenance.”

“We get so used to running from call to call that we just pack that stuff away and never really have an opportunity to work through it,” Scott Surrency, a member of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, said. “The ability to reach out to a peer support program is huge.” 

By calling 211, a first responder can talk privately with someone who has been there and gets it. Although some law enforcement and fire departments have their own internal support programs, this is ideal for first responders who may not want to speak with someone directly in their department. LSF Health Systems’ program is also available to family members of first responders. 

First responders can visit StayFitforDuty.org for more information or follow these steps to be connected with a peer specialist and receive the help they need: 

Step 1: Dial 211. This is the gateway to peer support and other community resources.

Step 2: Identify yourself as a current or former first responder, or a member of a first responder family, then answer a few screening questions.

Step 3: You will be paired with a first responder peer specialist immediately or one will contact you within 24 hours.

Step 4: Your peer specialist will schedule a confidential, convenient phone or video conference appointment to listen to what is going on with you. They will work with you to create a long-term plan designed to help you feel better and stay fit for continued duty.

Step 5: Your peer specialist will follow up with regular check-ins over a period of up to six months.

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