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South Texas Police Tap Telehealth for Mental Health Help

Emergency and law enforcement personnel from across the region joined to announce a partnership with a telehealth medical group that will help first responders seek round-the-clock care for mental health issues.

(TNS) — Emergency and law enforcement personnel from across the Rio Grande Valley joined Alton Police Chief Jonathan Flores to announce a partnership with a telehealth medical group that will help first responders seek round-the-clock care for mental health issues.

The Reliant First Hero Responder Mental Health Program will be available 24/7 to provide those seeking help with anonymity, privacy and medical providers who can determine whether they need emergency medical assistance or treatment for an underlying mental health issue. It's an integrated patient-driven health platform meant to combat the stigma behind mental health among first responders.

The program is a partnership between local agencies and Reliant, a telehealth company. Some of the founding agencies behind the program include Alton police, Alton Fire Department, La Joya police and Roma police.

"Year after year, you see first responders across the United States lose their life to suicide," Flores said. "These individuals deal with things that your average citizen does not have to deal with."

According to Flores, there were over 200 first responders that died from suicide in 2019 alone.

Flores said this program is a way to tell fellow officers that their department is there to take care of them by providing resources for their mental health if they feel the need to seek help.

"... The most important thing that it does is that it tells them that not only is that resource available to them, but that it's OK," Flores added.

The police chief said the idea of "sucking it up" or ignoring the emotions someone is feeling while on the job is a "culture thing," whether it be within police or military agencies.

Flores added that it's important to talk about it every day to demonstrate to fellow officers that it's OK to seek help and that everyone understands the job of a first responder is a difficult one.

"I care about all of my employees," Flores said. "I want them to go home and thrive in their household. I want them to be good mothers, good fathers, good brothers, sisters, uncles, whatever that may be, and I want them to be able to have a good, sound quality of life when they leave the workplace."

Thomas Jasso, a reserve officer for Alton and the director of field operations for Reliant, helped spearhead the partnership between Reliant and the department after he lost his grandfather.

"The only thing was that when my grandfather passed away, who was like a father-figure to me, I didn't actually feel anything, and that should've been a red flag, but I didn't know anything about mental health at that time, so I disregarded that," Jasso said.

Jasso also sought education for mental health after he received a call about a woman with children who needed help and felt depressed and he struggled to aid the person in need.

He said it wasn't until he took a mental health class and grieved with his family that he was finally able to take a step back and realize that something was wrong.

Jasso then went searching for more resources online.

That's when he met Kelli White, who's now the director of the First Hero program. She helped Jasso brainstorm an idea to create a program for first responders who have faced similar mental health issues.

"Often times ... when there is a suicide in law enforcement, we get down and we're very sad and it has an impact on the agency, it has an impact on everybody," Flores said. "And we say to ourselves, we need to do more... Well, this is the 'do more', right here."

© 2022 The Monitor (McAllen, Texas). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.