COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – There is a new facility in Columbus that serves those who serve families in the city.
The new Public Safety Wellness Center opened in July and is geared to helping fire and police personnel overcome challenges that affect their personal lives.
“I started in police work, really, over 30 years ago,” said Columbus Division of Police Cmdr. Dave Hughes. “You were taught, ‘You’re going to see a lot of stuff. You’re going just to have to deal with it, go to the next call,’ and what we’ve learned over time is that stuff just builds up.”
That aspect of the job is why the new center is so important.
“It really helps with a wide variety, whether it’s mental health, counseling, folks that may be battling different types of addiction and challenges, substance abuse, in a safe place,” said Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther.
The $3.2 million facility serves current police officers, firefighters, recruits, and dispatchers.
“When they’re in need, it’s a really hard thing for them to come forward and say, ‘You know, I’m not doing so good,’” said Lisa Callander, director of the city’s Employee Assistance Program. “’I might be doing okay in my job, but I need some help with my family, my kid, my marriage,’ whatever that might be.”
The facility offers a yoga/workout room, kitchen, classroom, podcast studio, and spaces for first responders to have private, personal conversations about their stressors.
“Sometimes, our peers talk to their peers and they don’t need anything else,” Callander said. “They just need someone who understands those shoes that they walk in.”
And to do so in a safe place off limits to the public.
“We heard from a lot of police officers and firefighters that they would be a lot more willing to accept some of these services to take advantage of some of these resources if they knew it could be kept confidential,” Ginther said.
“Since I’ve been on, it was taboo to see a counselor,” Hughes said. “It was taboo to e referred outside. Through Lisa’s work and her team, they’ve really made it more acceptable.”
Ginther said he’d like to expand the center’s staff and eventually make services available to the divisions’ retirees.
To protect those seeking services and to prevent the location of the building from being disclosed, the city did not allow NBC4 on site, but did provide video for this story.