First Responder TeleECHO

UNMHSC's Project ECHO launches program to address mental health needs of New Mexico's frontline providers

The University of New Mexico's Project ECHO has launched a new First Responder TeleECHO program to address the mental health needs of New Mexico's frontline providers.

The new program, supported with funding from the New Mexico Department of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, aims to stem rising rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, compassion fatigue, depression and suicide among paramedics, firefighters and law enforcement.

"It's a medical fact: mental health affects physical health," said Health Department secretary Kathy Kunkel. "All of us benefit when New Mexico's first responders get the help they need to address the life-and-death stress they deal with every day."

First responders are also on the front lines in tackling the opioid crisis, said Art Garcia, the USDA's state director for rural development.

"Our first responders are our unsung heroes," Garcia said. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proud to help by giving them one more tool to fight the opioid crisis by providing financial support to Project ECHO. The funds will be used to teach our first responders in rural New Mexico communities how to deal with opioid emergencies."

With 130 Americans dying on average every day, first responders are the first to be called in a 911 emergency. They provide a critical "lifeline" in nearly every community. But especially in rural towns and counties, where the closest urgent care or hospital might be hours away, paramedics and firefighters may be the only providers of medical care..

"First responders serve all of us every day," said Joanna Katzman, MD, Project ECHO's senior associate director. "I am so thrilled that Project ECHO can help to provide access to trainings for first responders in New Mexico. My hope is to see this program grow throughout the country."

The weekly program, which launched Sept. 9, includes cases from the first responders, as well as brief lectures presented by the hub team specialists. First responders connect each week using the Zoom internet videoconferencing platform, which provides them access from anywhere in the state.

The ECHO hub team includes a psychiatrist and emergency room physician, a pain doctor, an expert paramedic, a firefighter and a law enforcement officer. All New Mexico first responders are invited to attend this weekly teleECHO program.

The goals of this innovative Project ECHO pilot are to increase the knowledge and self-efficacy of New Mexico's first responders, while also improving their emotional and psychological well-being and work satisfaction.