House approves Rep. Schlossberg's bipartisan mental health bill to help first responders

HARRISBURG, Oct 30 -The Pennsylvania House of Representatives today unanimously passedH.B.1459,bipartisan legislation introduced by state Reps. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, and Frank Farry, R-Bucks, that would establish an emergency responder mental wellness and stress management program in Pennsylvania. 

Under the bill, a variety of services to support first responders would launch through the Pennsylvania Department of Health in cooperation with the Department of Human Services, county mental health offices and the state fire commissioner. 

“Our first responders put their lives on the line to protect us, and their efforts often come at a heavy cost to their mental health,” Schlossberg said. “These heroes deserve more than just words of thanks. They deserve the resources and programs they need to get help.”

Under the bill, support would include peer-to-peer support programs, training for peer support efforts, a toll-free helpline, statewide and regional stress management support, trauma and suicide awareness training and support for non-profit organizations already doing this work.

Schlossberg said recent studies have shown that first responders have higher rates of depression, alcohol abuse, sleep disturbances, anxiety disorders and suicidal thoughts.

To make these programs possible, the bill would direct $250,000 annually be dedicated to the statewide Critical Incident Stress Management Program. 

Funding would be made possible by increasing fines for traffic violations from $10 to $20 and Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition fines from $25 to $50.

“It is critical for first responders to understand that asking for help is a sign of strength, and allows them to better serve our communities,” Schlossberg said. “We need to get this right to live up to our end of the bargain so first responders can focus on saving lives.”

Schlossberg’s legislation goes to the Senate for consideration. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: A video soundbite from Rep. Schlossberg is available for download at ftp://ftp.pahouse.com as filename 103019 Schlossberg HB1459.mp4