Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are evolving to better address the diverse mental health needs of employees, including those who are struggling in the aftermath of the pandemic and members of the LGBTQ2S+ and racialized communities.
“Our lives are more complicated than ever,” says Andrew McCartney, Senior Director, Business Development, at GreenShield Health, who presented at a Benefits Alliance conference earlier this year.
Telehealth is a big part of the evolution, providing high-tech, personalized solutions that include 24-hour access to counselling, in person or virtually.
These are not the static EAPs of the past. Instead, they enable access to counsellors selected by the employee, seamlessly integrate with employer benefit programs, offer extended mental health coverage and allow for self-scheduling. And the payoff for plan sponsors is employees who feel supported, are more productive and experience fewer mental health exacerbations.
“It’s the idea of navigating physical and mental health care under one roof in a completely joined experience,” explains Gord Hart, CEO and Chairman of Selectpath, a member firm of Benefits Alliance, who co-presented with McCartney.
“This integrated approach—looking at the holistic individual patient/member—is a game-changer for the plan member and the plans sponsor/employer,” says Hart.
Rather than plan sponsors having to piece together different vendors and services, the latest digital platforms can unify offerings. These can include access to a variety of providers, including peer support groups, psychologists and psychotherapists. Employees can get counselling appointments within 24 to 72 hours at a time when wait times for psychologists and psychotherapists can be weeks or months. A nurse navigator helps employees determine what services they need and creates a personalized course of treatment. “With a fully customizable allocation of clinical hours, employers can ensure their employees have the support they need,” says McCartney.
Plan sponsors should also look for an EAP that enables seamless access to other benefits. “For those requiring more support, continuing with the same counsellor and leveraging your paramedical, health spending account or spousal plan provides a cost-effective way to receive longer-term support,” explained McCartney. In addition to optimizing their coverage, plan members benefit from uninterrupted treatment from the same clinician rather than potentially having to start over with a new provider each time a different source of coverage kicks in.
The results speak for themselves. For example, the GreenShield Health EAP “has a 22 percent average annualized utilization, a 34 percent clinical improvement score, 91 percent client satisfaction and client retention of more than 95 percent,” McCartney told conference attendees.
For Hart, today’s modernized EAPs remove barriers to preventative, responsive, long-term mental health support. “Our industry talks a lot about EAPs for crisis intervention, but we don’t talk enough about how EAPs help members improve mental hygiene, which in turn builds up good mental health. Let’s build up that resiliency so that we reduce stress and the risk of acute crisis situations. A healthy mindset leads to a healthy workplace.”