Eagle County School District expands employee assistance program to include more local providers

The school district is one of 16 local employers that is part of the Vail Health Mountain Strong program

Eagle County School District is now enrolled in Vail Health Behavioral Health's Mountain Strong employee assistance program. The expansion gives educators and staff access to more providers, including those that live locally.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

The Eagle County School District expanded its Employee Assistance Program this school year to offer more local options for its teachers and staff through Vail Health Behavioral Health’s Mountain Strong program.

“We have had an employee assistance program for many years through the Triad system, but most of the providers in that system were not in county. And we have recently in the last few years seen Eagle Valley Behavioral Health really blossom into a county-wide, even a regional-wide, support system for mental health,” said Superintendent Philip Qualman at the Sept. 27 Board of Education meeting. “So, it was our attempt this year to try and partner with them to expand our employee assistance program to include their network.”

Qualman called this a “huge improvement for us and what we can provide for our staff members.”

This expansion is part of the school district’s enhanced focus and prioritization of wellness in its strategic plan, said Adele Wilson, the district’s chief human resources officer.

It has been a challenging few years in education, not only for students’ social-emotional learning and behavioral health but also for educators’ mental health and well-being. So as the district has worked to improve and increase its mental and behavioral health supports for students in recent years, these resources are just as important for its teachers and staff.

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“Providing mental health supports for our staff leads to a happier and healthier work environment for both staff and students,” she said. “If our staff isn’t well, they cannot perform well and take care of student’s needs.”

Katie Leibig, a second-grade teacher and co-president of the Eagle County Education Association, said that expanding mental health services will only ensure that educators who are struggling find the help they need.

“Life is hard, and our students and their families are struggling. I feel honored to be the trusted person my students and their families turn to for support when they have hard times, but it can be a large load to carry,” Leibig said.

“Being a teacher today means managing lots of secondary traumatic stress. By addressing educators’ mental health needs, we can help ensure that we are equipped to provide the best possible support to our students while also taking care of our well-being. We can only be present and support our students if we first take care of ourselves,” she added.

By adding Mountain Strong to its EAP providers — in addition to Triad — each staff member receives six free visits with a mental health professional per incident, per year, Wilson said. Beyond its employees, this benefit is also extended to an employee’s spouse or domestic partner as well as dependents 26 and younger.

Through Mountain Strong and Triad, employees now have access to in-person and virtual care.

Wilson noted that the district is also working to boost staff health through the efforts of its wellness committee, which provides “literature and seminars surrounding wellness topics such as diet, sleep and overall health management” to employees.

Mountain Strong

The Mountain Strong Employee Assistance Program initially began in December 2019 as an internal pilot program at Vail Health.

“At that time, Vail Health’s EAP did not have any local behavioral health providers credentialed to serve their employees; most of the providers were out of state and could only be reached through a 1-800 number,” said Dana Erpelding, the senior director of operations for Vail Health Behavioral Health. The Mountain Strong EAP was developed to remove administrative barriers and increase access to quality care.”

Then, in 2020, the program expanded to serve additional local businesses. Today, it serves 16 local businesses including the Eagle County government, the town of Avon, the Eagle County School District, local employees with East West Partners as well as other local nonprofits and hospitality businesses, Erpelding reported.

“Mountain Strong contracts with licensed providers in our rural community, as well as other providers licensed to practice in Colorado, to connect patients seamlessly to local providers through an online system,” Erpelding said.

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Since 2020, the EAP program has provided services to around 10,638 lives in Eagle County, Erpelding said.

“The Mountain Strong EAP is now the largest provider of employee benefits in the county based on the number of lives served,” she added.

The program now has more than 180 licensed behavioral health providers that individuals can meet with in person or virtually. Mountain Strong and its providers provide therapy and medication management, live and recorded training and educational events, crisis response and care navigation.

And it’s still growing. Erpelding noted that it’s continuing to expand its network to “increase access to specialty services for youth, adolescents, families and adults in our mountain resort community.”

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