Shelby County offering counseling for employees amid COVID-19 pandemic

Shelby County offering counseling for employees amid COVID-19 pandemic

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - Employees with Shelby County are getting an expansion in their benefits in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The essential workers are still on the job, but now they have a way to deal with their mental health for free.

Mayor Lee Harris is offering virtual counseling to employees - this includes unlimited video, phone, or in-person counseling services.

According to a release, employees are not required to have health insurance to be qualified for virtual counseling.

The teletherapy program is a part of the Employee Assistance Program with the Shelby County Government.

“We must slow the spread of COVID-19. In addition, we must protect our mental health during this harrowing time. Employees may be anxious about contracting the virus, fearful about exposing their loved ones to the disease, or navigating the unique stressors that have arisen during this public health emergency. Access to professional teletherapy services is one way to ensure that employees have access to counseling and mental healthcare. We encourage other employers to be proactive and do what they can to support the mental health of their employees.”
Shelby County Mayor, Lee Harris

Harris said the pandemic has brought unique stressors to the world from worrying about catching and spreading the virus to the economic impact it may have on your family.

“Our employees have asked to make a lot of sacrifices,” Mayor Harris said. “Remember, county government is still open and we don’t plan on closing.”

Mayor Harris said the mental health of county government employees has always been top of mind, but under what he calls ‘harrowing times’ he’s decided to give employees more options to take care of their mental health.

“It’s okay to want counseling,” Mayor Harris said. “It’s okay to want to talk to someone. It’s okay to want to protect your mental health care, which is all free to our employees.”

Mayor Harris is rolling out free counseling sessions for county government employees. The benefit is for every employee, no matter if they use the county’s healthcare package or not, and it includes teletherapy.

Employees can meet with a mental health professional via the computer.

“The in-person sessions are a little trickier right now because we are in an era of social distancing,” Mayor Harris said. “So we encourage our employees to stay distant from one another so we can slow the spread. That’s why we’ve been sending out notices around teletherapy.”

Harris said this is part of a collection of changes his administration has made since the COVID-19 outbreak began. The county has already implemented a first-ever work from a distance or work from home plan and has altered its paid sick leave.

Mayor Harris said it will take some planning and negotiating to keep the free counseling on as a benefit when the pandemic is over, but he hopes that can happen.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have acknowledged the stress and anxiety that can come from dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Governor Bill Lee talked about ways the state is helping Tennesseans get through these tough times. Lee called it “collateral impact” - the damage this disease does to our minds.

TN Gov. Lee addresses increased focus on mental health amid outbreak

Currently, there are more than 490 cases of coronavirus across Shelby County, according to the City of Memphis.

According to the Shelby County Health Department, in early March the first reported cases of the novel coronavirus were two people who went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Alisa Haushalter, director of the health department, pointed out that most of the cases of coronavirus in Shelby County are not elderly people.

“We are still continuing to see that the majority of our cases are in individuals below 60 and a significant number really over 40% are between 21 and 40," said Haushalter in a daily briefing Tuesday.

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