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Health, Science & Environment

Utah’s retired first responders and family members could see mental health support under a new bill

Police units responds to the scene of an emergency.
MattGush
/
iStockphoto
A new bill would put $5 million toward a grant program that funds mental health resources for first responders and their families.

A Utah legislative committee supported a bill Wednesday that would require first responder agencies to provide mental health resources to all their employees — including retired ones.

It would also offer that support to family members.

The proposal builds upon a bill that passed earlier this year by adding families and retired employees. It also bumps up the funding, putting $5 million toward mental health resources instead of $500,000 which was originally asked for.

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, sponsored this latest legislation. He said it’s important to acknowledge the “collateral damage” of first responder jobs.

“This bill reflects the reality that families, by and large, pay the price,” Wilcox said.

Weber County Sheriff’s Lt. Cortney Ryan said he was in a traumatic situation years ago while on the job. He said it’s taken him “a long time to get over it,” but it’s still impacting his wife.

“Every time that I'm at work and she happens to hear sirens in the background, she's immediately saying, ‘What are you doing? Where are you going?’” Ryan said. “I'm like, ‘It's not me, honey. It's just the radio.’ It really opens that wound up every time.”

The bill also covers first responders like dispatchers or search and rescue teams.

Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Salt Lake City, said she used to be a police dispatcher at a ski resort. Her voice cracked as she recalled a helicopter accident where some of her loved ones were emergency responders.

“I didn't think I'd be this emotional,” Riebe said. “But actually going through it, you remember what happened, and you remember how close it was that your friends and family were part of that. Our first responders do a tremendous amount of work to keep people safe in this state.

Lawmakers will consider the bill during next year’s General Session.

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