Down But Not Out in Beverly Hills. How This Risk Manager Bolstered the Mental Health of Her Town’s Public Sector Employees

A critical incident stress debriefing program was just one way this risk manager delved into the circumstances that were draining the vitality of her colleagues.
By: | July 25, 2022

Two years ago, Sharon Dressel, risk manager for the city of Beverly Hills, watched as the municipality’s workforce was swept up in a wave of new stressors that was straining their mental health.

First, there was the COVID-19 pandemic, which famously caused so much stress and anxiety it caused an uptick in employee burnout, as Risk & Insurance® reported in April 2020.

Workers were rightfully fearful about the risks of contracting the novel virus. As companies shuttered and shelter-in-place orders were instated, many feared for their jobs.

“What kind of triggered our increased approach to mental health and wellness programming was the pandemic,” Dressel said. The city’s more than 1,200 workers were tasked with enforcing new virus mitigation measures, and they faced backlash from unruly citizens. “Their normal positions wouldn’t have required that and that was very stressful for many people,” Dressel said. “Not everyone was responding in a positive way to [the mandates].”

Then in May, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. Protests erupted across the country and workers for the City of Beverly Hills were anxious about potential civil unrest.

Dressel knew now wasn’t the time to sit back; it was time to act to protect workers’ mental health. She worked with CorVel, the city’s TPA, to implement a critical incident stress debriefing program.

The program had two tiers, one for workers whose trauma was the result of the pandemic and one for those who were struggling with other catastrophic events. It aimed to help workers process any incidents that may result in mental distress within 24- to 72-hours of the event.

Then, she implemented a number of other mental health services — mindfulness sessions and guided meditations, to name a few. It’s difficult to quantify the success of workplace mental health programs, but here’s an example that might shed some light on the program’s success: After a threat of violence was made against several City workers, the entire group participated in a critical incident stress debriefing session.

During the session, workers were able to process the gravity of the threat and understand what the City was doing to protect them. Dressel reports that employees appreciate the resources.

“We explained what had happened, we explained where things were and what activities and actions were taken by the City to ensure that no one would be at risk of harm,” Dressel said. &

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Courtney DuChene is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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