Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced Monday the creation of a new division within the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Office of Criminal Justice Services that will focus exclusively on the well-being of Ohio’s first responders.
The new Ohio Office of First Responder Wellness will work to encourage self-care and mental wellness for Ohio’s first responder community including law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, dispatch, corrections, and Ohio-based military. The office will provide specialized support and training to help emergency-response agencies proactively address post-traumatic stress and other traumas caused by factors that are unique to first-responder careers.
“First responders are truly public servants who put the well-being of others in front of themselves. Unfortunately, the stress of constantly responding to terrible situations like murder scenes, house fires, and tragic accidents can take a toll on the mental, emotional, and physical health of these heroes,” said Governor DeWine. “By creating this new office within the Ohio Department of Public Safety, we’re creating a centralized resource to help our police and fire departments, EMS units, and other first-responder agencies actively place an ongoing focus on wellness with assistance from those who’ve faced some of the same unique on-the-job stress.”
Steven M. Click, who served 36 years with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and oversaw their Member Assistance Team from 2002 to 2018, will serve as the director of the Ohio Office of First Responder Wellness. Click has been active in peer support since 1993 and was deployed twice to New York City after the 9/11 attacks to work with the New York Police Department’s peer support team. Most recently, Click served as a liaison between the first responder community and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
“We are thrilled to have Steve lead our work to help first responders deal with the daily stress and pressure of their jobs,” said DPS Director Tom Stickrath. “Maintaining proper mental, physical, and emotional health is critical for them to continue what they do.”
According to Blue H.E.L.P., more than 940 first responders nationwide have taken their own lives over the last five years, with the majority of those deaths involving law enforcement officers. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more officers die by suicide than in the line of duty, and compared to the general population, law enforcement officers report much higher rates of depression, PTSD, burnout, and other anxiety-related mental health conditions. Research also shows that stress from a career in law enforcement causes higher rates of secondary trauma such as heart diseases, divorce, alcoholism, and other psychological illnesses.
“I am excited to lead the new Ohio Office of First Responder Wellness, which will serve as a resource for all of Ohio’s first responders,” said Click. “My goal as director is to help bridge the gap between first responders, their local agencies, and a variety of wellness resources.”
The Ohio Office of First Responder Wellness will partner with local and state mental health agencies, including the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, to offer continuing, comprehensive resources to first-responder entities across the state.
First responder wellness is a priority of Governor DeWine as part of a broader statewide initiative that comprehensively considers the impact of critical incident trauma, chronic exposure to traumatic events, and chronic exposure to organizational stress. In May, the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board established a new statewide minimum standard for officer wellness, focusing on the physical and mental wellness of law enforcement agency personnel. The Ohio Office of First Responder Wellness will also work to offer wellness training for law enforcement next year to meet the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission’s requirement that all peace officers in the state receive officer personal wellness training in 2022.