Huntington’s Compass program puts focus on wellness to address compassion fatigue in first responders

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A second wellness coach could join the coach already embedded within the Huntington Fire Department and Police Department before the end of this year as part of Compass Huntington, a new program fighting compassion fatigue in first responders.

Compass launched about six months ago after Huntington was selected as one of the national winners of the 2018 Bloomberg Philanthropies U.S. Mayors Challenge last October.

The prize was $1 million total in grant funding for the initiative stretching out over three years and Amy Berner, Compass program manager, said city officials have been moving quickly to implement new initiatives using the money.

“We hope that the Compass Program helps our first responders navigate their wellness journey,” Berner said.

“This is just getting us rolling. We’re working with various organizations in Huntington and, hopefully, statewide to make the program sustainable (beyond three years).”

Compassion fatigue is the lessening of empathy, over time, among individuals who work directly with trauma victims. Such fatigue can affect a first responder’s morale, wellness, family life, job satisfaction, mental health and sympathy for patients.

In Huntington in recent years, police officers and firefighters have been under heavy strain dealing with the effects of the opioid epidemic.

In general, the goal of Compass is to provide those first responders with self-care tools so they can respond more efficiently in high-stress situations.

A number of steps have been taken, thus far, to try to achieve that including the implementation of training covering life skills, relationships, mindfulness and community and the scheduling of various activities open to the first responders and their families.

Potential policy changes have also been in the works.

“We hope to revive some existing policies there, some wellness policies, to create a better, positive workplace for our first responders in terms of wellness,” Berner explained.

Coming up in January, construction was scheduled to start on a new comprehensive wellness center for police officers and firefighters located on the Huntington Police Department’s 5th floor.

AT&T has donated $20,000 to Compass and Berner said future fundraising was being planned.

Marshall University has also signed on to analyze Compass data.

“We want to be able to replicate and show other communities what we’re doing in terms of compassion fatigue and burnout for first responders,” Berner said.

“Even though other communities may be doing wellness initiatives for first responders across the country, no one is really working with first responders in terms of compassion fatigue.”

Huntington was one of nine cities selected from more than 300 applications in a competition that challenged city leaders to come up with new ways to address some of their toughest challenges.

“That’s the promise of the Mayors Challenge that, if we give communities a boost, they will be able to implement bold ideas and tackle big problems,” former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg previously said of the grant awards.

Other winning cities, where other issues were in the process of being addressed, included Denver, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Berner said having such an opportunity close to home could be key to Huntington’s future.

“Working with the first responders in Huntington is one of the greatest joys of my life and you couldn’t ask for a better group of men and women to work with every day,” she said.

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