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Creating a New Tradition of Police Mental Health

Creating a New Tradition of Police Mental Health

Creating a New Tradition of Police Mental Health – The Texas Blue Chip Program

In the heart of numerous police traditions, police challenge coins hold a special place, embodying camaraderie, honor, and recognition within the ranks. These small medallions, adorned with emblems, insignia, history, and marks of excellence, are passed surreptitiously from hand to hand.

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With this small exchange and a familiar glance, officers have for decades shared the weight of history, symbolic significance, personal stories, and, at times, have borne witness to the immense mental and behavioral health burdens each carries from the job.

Thanks to efforts by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, generously supported by the Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT), officers can now pocket and share another invaluable token created not only to help shoulder such psychological burdens, but also to actively remove barriers, either real or perceived, that prevent police officers from accessing the health care they need comfortably and anonymously.

In 2023, the Meadows Institute launched the Texas Blue Chip Program with philanthropic support from CFT and the Support for Allen Fund. This initiative provides direct and anonymous access to professional mental health services for first responders who were involved in, or supported the response to, the mass casualty event in Allen, Texas, on May 6, 2023.

The Texas Blue Chip Program offers clinical resources to police officers at no cost. These resources include counseling and psychiatric care, accessible without the need to coordinate through an employee assistance program, officer wellness programs at police departments, a peer network, or insurance referrals. This addresses the fear of stigma often associated with a public safety professional’s initial outreach for services.

The program provides officers with specially designed poker chips, which serve as coupons to cover the cost of services. These chips can be quietly exchanged during the traditional officer challenge coin handshake as encouragement from one officer to another to seek help. The chips also can be kept in a uniform pocket as a daily reminder that help is available. A virtual chip, or QR code, can be accessed online via the Texas Law Enforcement Peer Network mobile app and presented to a provider for payment.

Officers in need of services can schedule appointments with participating clinicians by accessing their practice information through a dedicated listing on the Texas Blue Chip Program website, thereby avoiding the need to coordinate care with an employer or insurer. The program uniquely combines poker chips as a payment method for clinical services, anonymous billing, and confidential provider listings to ensure officers receive the help they need with utmost privacy and anonymity.

Philanthropic funds from CFT enable the Meadows Institute to cover these clinical services. While officers have avenues for private mental health care through insurance or peer networks, many still do not seek help, even following traumatic incidents, due to fear of workplace repercussions, stigma, or the complexity of initial insurance provisions. The Texas Blue Chip Program provides an additional, discreet channel for officers to obtain assistance on their own terms.

The Impact from Allen and Beyond

In designing the Texas Blue Chip Program, the Meadows Institute drew on the expertise of former Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson and the initiative he introduced during his tenure at the Arlington Police Department. In 2020, under Chief Johnson’s leadership, the department established the Arlington Blue Chip Program, which became the model for the Meadows Institute’s regional program. Initially, the program recorded almost no utilization in the first few months. This grew significantly, however, in the following months, reaching a few hundred uses.

By the end of its first year, the Arlington Blue Chip Program recorded a total of 565 uses. Over the next two years, utilization doubled, now reaching between 1,000 and 1,300 uses annually. This growth indicates that over time, more than 4,000 clinical visits occurred that might not have happened without the unique services and anonymity offered by the Arlington Blue Chip Program.

In response to the Allen tragedy, the Meadows Institute, inspired by the Arlington Blue Chip model, began adapting the program for broader regional and statewide use, an expansion made possible by CFT’s vital philanthropic support. In the aftermath of the mass shooting, mental health support was provided to officers at the scene who took immediate police actions to end the tragedy; however, the trauma care needs for the officers on scene who did not take police actions but applied tourniquets, sealed wounds, and recovered bodies, as well as the emergency call takers who listened to the traumatic events unfold, were not adequately addressed. These gaps in care underscored the crucial need for trauma-informed clinical interventions that go beyond peer support. The generous funding provided by CFT allowed all first responders to access much-needed trauma care immediately and for the lingering months of post-trauma impact that followed.

Since the regional launch of the Meadows Institute’s Texas Blue Chip Program, approximately 100 chips have been used through the Allen Police Department. This represents 100 clinical visits that led to sustained relationships with clinicians through the program, facilitating full trauma recovery.

Allen’s new police chief, Chief Steve Dye, informed the Meadows Institute that without the Texas Blue Chip program, Allen would not have the healthy workforce it currently enjoys. He emphasized that the Meadows Institute was the only immediate and available resource for all officers in need. In many cases, these officers were so engaged in providing tactical clinical care and responding to ongoing needs across Allen that they could not even change uniforms before their next shifts, carrying their trauma for days. Chief Dye acknowledged that the ability for officers to receive immediate, anonymous clinical care was lifesaving, a service that could not have been provided without CFT’s significant philanthropic support.

The program’s success is enabling the Meadows Institute to position it as a model both statewide and nationally, with outreach extending to Florida, Massachusetts, Illinois, and throughout Texas. Philanthropic funding also has facilitated the provision of Texas Blue Chip Program clinical services via telehealth, allowing officers to receive care directly from their cruisers, during lunch breaks, and in the privacy of their homes.

Additionally, the telehealth expansion means that any future tragedies like the one in Allen can receive immediate clinical support through Texas Blue Chip interventions. The Blue Chip serves as a tangible reminder to officers that, although they may face difficult days, it does not mean they have to endure a difficult life. The impact of CFT and the Meadows Institute’s collaborative response to the tragedy in Allen has provided access to necessary help for every officer and emergency call taker who responded, and it has extended aid to any police officer affected by trauma across the state.

Like the tradition of challenge coins, police officers can now take a Texas Blue Chip in hand and subtly pass it to a colleague in need. No other words or exchanges are necessary. This quiet gesture, which can be placed in a pocket as the officer seeks help, fosters a culture of wellness and care among units and forces. The Meadows Institute launched this unique program in a way that was respectful to the tragedy and the culture of police and community support in Allen.

Funds from CFT were instrumental; they enabled the purchase of poker chips, supported administrative efforts to launch the program, placed special provider stickers on clinician doors, and supported anonymous billing for clinical services.

At a recent conference of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, an end-of-conference session led by the Allen Police Department and Chief Dye showcased outcomes from the Texas Blue Chip Program. At the conclusion of the presentation, Chief Albert Garcia, president of the Texas Police Chiefs Association — the largest of its kind in the country — stood before the audience of hundreds of police executives and leadership, and proudly displayed a CFT-funded Blue Chip. He emphasized that every chief and officer in the room could use this resource to support their own and others’ mental health and wellness. Although these resources are often shared quietly, it is a testament to the success of the program and the impact of CFT’s dedicated support that, in this instance, the Texas Blue Chip was celebrated publicly.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE TEXAS BLUE CHIP PROGRAM 

Read more about the Texas Blue Chip Program in the media: 
Dallas Morning News
Fort Worth Report 
KRLD News Radio 1080 
WFAA (Video Clip)

Nicole Paquette
Author:
Nicole Paquette
Senior Director, Communications, Public Relations, and External Affairs

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