I have been doing the same job for Empathia for the last 20+ years. No, I am not the CEO or a Vice President (though I easily think that I could be and that I would be great!). Nope, I’m also not a Corporate Trainer, though I enjoy traveling and hearing myself talk, as well as having others listen to me talk: the bigger the audience, the better! I am the Manager of Field Operations, which is a fancy way of saying that I manage a network of mental health providers across the country and in other parts of the world. It is not a glamorous job, but it is perfect for me because I love people and have thousands of providers in my network. I’m also happy to be part of something that I’m so proud of… Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are incredible companies with tons of benefits for employees and their family members.
I find it interesting when companies and brokers compare EAPs on the size of their networks and even more interesting when EAPs claim that they have huge EAP networks. Empathia has fought this issue since I started working for them in 1990. So, let’s try to solve this age old question: Is bigger really better?
Let’s start with the basics of what determines a high quality EAP network.
Credentials: A network needs to have requirements of who can belong and who can’t. Most EAPs require providers to have a minimum of a Master’s degree and to be independently licensed in the state where they are providing the services. In order to determine this, EAPs ask that every provider fill out a detailed application which asks for specifics about the provider and their practice. In this application, the provider is asked a series of disclosure questions which seek to gain knowledge of current and past issues related to their license and illegal activities. After reviewing the application, some EAPs do what is called “primary source verification” of the provider’s education, license, and liability insurance. This means not only looking at the documents, but verifying their accuracy. Maintaining monthly checks on sanctions brought against network providers is also an excellent way of monitoring a provider after the application process.
A good EAP Network Manager is also aware of other important credentials, specifically related to EAP providers. The Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP) and the Employee Assistance Specialist-Clinical (EAS-C) are two credentials obtained through the Employee Assistance Professional Association (EAPA); they show that a provider is invested in learning about EAP work and what it takes to be a responsible EAP Affiliate. As an FYI, EAPs don’t provide psychiatric assessments or prescribe medications to their clients, so psychiatrists are not needed in an EAP network.
Understand your purpose. Is what an EAP provider does any different than any other private practice provider? You bet it is!! A respectable EAP network has providers that are not only solid clinically, but also understand their role as an EAP Affiliate (contracted provider). What is this role? EAPs offer services with clients that range between 3 and 8 sessions. It is not long term counseling, so issues like addictions and eating disorders are typically referred outside of the EAP services. A good EAP provider is first-and-foremost great at assessing the client’s issues and determining the best course of action. Different from many non-EAP providers, this assessment does not involve giving the client a diagnosis, but seeks a strong understanding about what is going on at the client’s workplace and how their issue(s) may be affecting their work performance. When sensitive issues arise about workplace difficulties, the high quality EAP provider remains neutral and doesn’t side with the client against the company. The EAP is an employer benefit and is not to be used against the company that is paying for the services.
After the assessment, the EAP provider uses the remaining sessions to either resolve the client issues conclusively or assist the client in a referral for on-going treatment. Referrals can run the gamut from inpatient treatment to support groups found in the community. Though it is nice when the EAP provider is also covered by the client’s insurance plan, the client needing services beyond the scope of the EAP (occurring less than 5% of the time) may need to be referred to a different provider or treatment program. Being aware of community resources, including the top-notch local therapists/programs and who is covered by the client’s insurance in the area, is an essential role of an EAP provider.
Responsiveness. A solid EAP network needs to have availability to get clients in promptly. For a non-urgent case, this means offering a client an appointment within 3 to 5 business days.
I am extremely happy when I have a network filled with well-credentialed providers, who understand the role as an EAP Affiliate, and can offer timely appointments to our clients. But, just now many providers are needed?
A strong EAP network is built around the EAP’s client company and employee locations. This typically involves running a GeoAccess Report that compares an EAP’s network to a company-provided census of where their employees live. The company/broker may dictate certain minimum standards about the acceptable distance from an employee’s zip code that they want an EAP provider to be located, but it is typically 10 miles for an employee in a urban area, 15 miles in a suburban area, and 30 miles in a rural area. The report tells the company how diverse the EAP’s current network coverage is and tells the EAP where there may be holes in the coverage that need to be filled. Finding quality providers in the areas that lack coverage before implementing a new company EAP contract helps to ensure a smoother start when clients begin calling for services.
Though some EAPs calculate utilization differently, typical usage of the EAP is around 3 – 5%, on average. However, not all of these clients are being referred to the EAP network; some use the EAP’s legal, financial, and child/eldercare services, and still others prefer to access information on the EAP website or only to talk to the counselor by phone, video, or text. A company having 100 employees in a given area may mean that less than five clients may access the services.
I also want my EAP network providers to be well utilized. A provider getting a number of referrals will develop a good understanding of our EAP program, better understand the culture and issues of the client companies in their area (something that they can report back to the EAP), and will likely make themselves available when you have an urgent client to be seen or respond to a request for a provider to be on-site immediately for a trauma response at your client company. A provider not getting referrals may forget who you are and could likely leave your network next time you re-credential them.
Does size matter? Definitely – but, the biggest networks are not always the best.
Tim joined Empathia (then NEAS) in 1990. As Manager of Field Operations, he oversees Empathia’s national affiliate provider network and ensures that the level of service provided exceeds expectations. Additionally, Tim is a former Executive Board Member for the Employee Assistance Professional Association (EAPA) Chapter of Southern Wisconsin. He holds a Bachelor’s in Psychology, has a certificate in Criminal Justice, and is a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP).