It was one of those things that got no mention in the report, but a few remarks made during the last city council meeting bear strongly on the future of Pine Bluff's public employees. Terri Murphree of Southwest EAP (www.southwesteap.com) spoke briefly about her company's proposal to provide employee assistance services for municipal workers.

It was one of those things that got no mention in the report, but a few remarks made during the last city council meeting bear strongly on the future of Pine Bluff’s public employees. Terri Murphree of Southwest EAP (www.southwesteap.com) spoke briefly about her company’s proposal to provide employee assistance services for municipal workers.

Given the size of our public workforce, it is a shame that such programming doesn’t already exist. For the uninitiated, employee assistance programs (EAPs) can take a number of forms and vary in their level of comprehensiveness. The primary goal of an EAP is to keep the employee on the job, stable and productive. More generally, EAPs are designed to help employees cope with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health or well-being.

EAPs often include diagnostic assessment, short-term counseling and referral services for employees and members of their household. In a time of tightening budgets, this kind of programming may sound like a perk that a struggling city can ill-afford. Perhaps in the shortest of terms, that argument might hold, but in any balanced long-term perspective EAPs are a vital part of maintaining a healthy workforce.

Our local police officers and firefighters provide excellent reasons as to why a comprehensive EAP is good public policy. Members of our public safety corps face personal obstacles that many outside their professions will never know. Moreover, good officers and firefighters represent an investment that we should work to protect. After all, why should we spend all that time and money to train them, only to have them depart our service once things start to spiral. It’s no secret that public safety occupations are among the most dangerous in the nation.

Not too long ago, we lost Lt. David Curlin in a tragic firefighting accident. Police officers experienced enough to remember, recall the murder of Officer John Fallis. We remember their names, but their families endure a loss well-beyond what most of us experience. EAPs help them in their time of need. Not dissimilarly, we have a number of veterans among our public safety workers. Some of these brave souls have borne the burden of multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just ask any one of them if the world to which they returned is the same one they left. EAPs help in that reintroduction to work, family and society.

Then there’s just the daily grind of it all. Public safety workers on average are more prone to depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, divorce, substance abuse, divorce, suicide and a whole host of other terrible tolls. This owes to the fact that the worst day of your life is just another day in theirs. They routinely bear witness to the depths of the human condition. They have to bring order to the darkest and most chaotic moments society has to offer — and they do it day in and day out.

In places like Pine Bluff, they also do it with no formal mechanisms to help them cope. In essence we’ve told the detective investigating a rape and the firefighter rescuing elderly people from a burning house to walk it off. We pretend that there are no consequences for our bravest public servants. They deserve better. It’s a fact of being in public safety that you will likely not retire with great wealth. It’s also probable that you will sustain some kind of lingering injury as a result of your service.

Is it fair then, that we should expect these souls to also weather divorce, depression and all those other aforementioned ills? If not for humanitarian reasons, then for pragmatic reasons a comprehensive EAP makes sense. As stated above, it costs a lot of money to screen, hire and train a public safety worker.

Each one of them represents an investment of thousands of dollars. Putting in place mechanisms to protect that investment is not only fiscally sound, it’s the right thing to do.