Governor DeWine announces $1.3 million for statewide first responder wellness programs

COLUMBUS — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine recently announced enhanced support for the wellness needs of first responders in Ohio.

As part of the new Ohio First Responder Recruitment, Retention, and Resilience Program, DeWine is awarding approximately $1.3 million to three statewide programs that focus specifically on the unique wellness concerns of law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, dispatchers, and others who routinely respond to traumatic incidents.

“It’s the job of our first responders to care for others, but they must also care for themselves, and having easy access to confidential support is important,” said DeWine. “From crime scenes to house fires to medical emergencies, our first responders face tragic circumstances on a regular basis, and the programs we’re funding today will help these brave men and women with the trauma they experience as a result.”

Entities receiving grants in the first round of the Ohio First Responder Recruitment, Retention, and Resilience Program include:

• Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation will receive a grant of $593,950 to train first responder personnel in the evidence-based Question, Persuade, Refer suicide prevention curriculum to help them become aware of the warning signs, risk factors, and situations that may cause someone to have suicidal thoughts. The foundation will offer train-the-trainer instructor courses so that first responders can educate their peers.

• First Responders’ Bridge will receive a grant of $455,000 to offer free, confidential retreats for Ohio first responders and their significant others who are experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or post-traumatic stress from tragedies and other stressors experienced on the job. Retreats will include support from clinicians who focus on serving first responders, peers who have experienced traumatic events firsthand, chaplains, and other volunteers.

• Ohio ASSIST will receive a grant of $363,010 to conduct post-critical-incident seminars that address the mental wellness of Ohio’s first responder community. The programming will focus on mindfulness and resilience, and it will also help first responders understand how on-the-job stress impacts them and their personal relationships.

The Ohio First Responder Recruitment, Retention, and Resilience Program is administered by the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and will offer a total of approximately $75 million in funding for initiatives that support wellness programs addressing mental, physical, and emotional health issues unique to first responders; recruitment and retention efforts to restore workforce levels; onboarding and training costs; and explorer programs to engage young adults about first responder careers.

Applications for future grant awards are currently under review and will be announced in the coming months. The program is funded as part of the $250 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that DeWine and the Ohio General Assembly dedicated to first responders last year to help counter various pressing issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased stress and decreased staffing levels.

DeWine has also placed enhanced focus on the wellness of first responders through the creation of the Ohio Office of First Responder Wellness within the Ohio Department of Public Safety. The new statewide office focuses exclusively on the well-being of first responders and provides specialized support and training to help emergency-response agencies proactively address post-traumatic stress and other traumas caused by factors that are unique to first-responder careers.

Other assistance for first responders developed by DeWine since taking office in 2019 include the creation of the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center, Ohio School Safety Center, Ohio Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment, Ohio Ballistics Testing Initiative, Ohio Violent Crime Reduction Grant Program, and Ohio Crime Lab Efficiency Program.