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Denver promotes employee assistance programs.

In the early 1980's, Denver, Colo. city government officials began to think in a new way. They began to think of the well being of employees as an investment, one worth protecting.

Similar programs had been used in industry. The basic idea was to give employees a confidential, non-threatening place to go for help with personal or job related problems. Denver did not want to set up a shadow social services department, but to give employees information and access to existing help, public and private, as well as counseling in emergency situations. Denver proves this can be done with a very small staff: two professionals and one support staff.

In 1985, the Office of Employee Assistance began providing its "broad brush" program offering 24-hour-a-day information, referral and counseling services to all 12,000 civilian employees and family members as a mayoral initiative. Examples of presenting problems are trouble with a boss, drug and alcohol abuse, financial difficulties and health care questions.

In November of 1991, an ordinance was passed by City Council codifying the key elments of the successful program. The ordinance was sponsored by Councilwoman Cathy Reynolds, an NLC past president, and supported by Mayor Wellington Webb, a new NLC board member. It is believed this is the first such program to be codified in municipal law.

The Denver Office of Employee Assistance is overseen by a board composed to provide maximum support and sanction from three independently elected branches of city government. It is comprised of the mayor's chief of staff, and member of City Council, and the city auditor. In addition, two members of the business community serve on the board.

The most important elements of the program were specifically addressed in the ordinance. The first is confidentiality. No information can be divulged without written consent of the client. The second is anonymity. The program is housed separately from all other city operations.

The results of the OEA have been outstanding.

From its inception, the program has met or exceeded its utilization goal of 10 percent and in each of the past three years 13 percent of the workforce has reached out for help with personal problems.

A University of Denver cost benefit analysis stated," ... the City and County of Denver reaps $7.72 benefit for every $1.00 spent on its Office of Employee Assistance." The research model studied pre- and post-Employee Assistance Program absenteeism, and workman's compensation claims.

Based on the OEA's board's experience, the OEA has initiated a number of new and improved employee benefits and policies:

[Section] a continuum of care in health benefits for substance abuse problems;

[Section] a uniform alcohol and other drug abuse policy;

[Section] Denver's policy on HIV positive antibody status, ARC and AIDS; [Section] hospice care as generic to all health insurance carriers covering city employees;

[Section] "flex cash" benefits as provided for by IRS section 125 and 129;

[Section] catastrophic illness financial support by advancing 50 percent of term life insurance benefits to terminally ill employees prior to death (in process).

OEA is promoted to employees through some 500 posters with a change in color and message, distributed to all city agencies quarterly. Additionally, three times a year messages are repeated in payroll "stuffers."

Statistics masked for confidentiality regarding utilization are provided to each city agency each quarter, along with city-wide data for comparison.

"It has been the single most useful and cost efficient thing we have done for our employees, and for the city government," according to Reynolds. "I wish it were standard in all workplaces." Webb added, "An investment in employees is an investment in the City and County of Denver."

Harvey S. Hersh is director of the Office of Employee Assistance. For more information or a copy of the ordinance, contact him at 1625 Broadway, Suite 2540, Denver, Colo. 80202; Fax (303) 640-1657.
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Title Annotation:City Ideas That Work
Author:Hersh, Harvey
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Apr 13, 1992
Words:639
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