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September 25, 2014

Publicizing mental health resources is priority for benefits & welfare group

Compiling and publicizing Pitt mental health resources for staff and faculty continued to be a top issue for the University Senate benefits and welfare committee at its first meeting of the year on Sept. 18.

Linda Tashbook distributed a preliminary list, for member review, of mental health resources for Pitt employees, both inside and outside the University.

Noted Tashbook: “People may not be aware of the scope of knowledge that exists here, and the scope of opportunities” for services on campus.

The list included Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic’s online portal to community resources; the Civil Practice Law Clinic at the School of Law, which offers free legal aid to low-income individuals with disability claims and other issues; the Center for Patients with Special Needs at the School of Dental Medicine; opportunities for adolescents to participate in research at the Affective Neuroscience and Developmental Psychology laboratory, and other University resources.

From library books to Human Resources department websites, more information is available to Pitt employees on this topic than they may realize, Tashbook added. Community services such as family-to-family training classes held by the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness may not be well known by Pitt employees either.

Irene Kane, a committee member from the School of Nursing, noted that she and her fellow faculty may be available to offer their expertise as well.

“In terms of chronic conditions, depression is near the top,” noted John Kozar, assistant vice chancellor for Human Resources and chancellor’s liaison to the committee. “It’s a very serious situation.”

Another chancellor’s liaison, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources Ron Frisch, said his department also is looking to add faculty and staff development workshops that create awareness of the issue, in either spring or fall 2015.

Committee chair Angelina Riccelli asked Tashbook and Kane to work with Kozar and Frisch on compiling these resources for prevention and treatment of mental illness for distribution to the University community.

The benefits and welfare committee mapped out its major subjects for discussion for the year, including mental health and other special needs on campus as their topic for February. Other monthly topics will be: October, benefits funding; November, retirement savings and the defined contribution plan; January, the faculty and staff discount program, and March, the Affordable Care Act. April’s topic is still open for discussion; there is no committee meeting in December.


Kozar introduced benefits and welfare staff members to the committee and reported on recent changes in his department. March will be an appropriate time to focus on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, he said, since Pitt and many other employers face a March deadline to report on which employees qualify for medical coverage as of July 1, 2015, followed by monthly updates thereafter. “Everybody out there is trying to do their interpretations” of the law, he said. “It’s a struggle.”

HR also will be updating its policy on staff tuition discounts. “We’re not looking to reduce the benefit; we’re looking to reduce the amount of interpretation for the policy,” he said. Along with the update will come a new summary guide for employee use.

Changes are coming to the health-incentive account for those with UPMC’s PPO insurance, he announced. Rolled out two years ago, the account encourages faculty and staff to undertake periodic health risk assessments, such as blood draws, by offering credits that reduce the employee’s deductible. Kozar expects the incentive credits eventually will go instead into a flexible spending account.

“It’s a better way, it’s more understandable, and I think it will make the program more popular,” he said.

In conjunction with the annual retiree benefit fair, set for the first week in November this year, human resources is considering creating a retiree association, he said, as both a social organization and a way for Pitt to stay connected with retirees.

Said committee member Harvey Wolfe, retired engineering faculty: “One of the difficulties is, the longer you’ve been retired, the less connections you have with the University. Things change in the Benefits office…”

Added Riccelli: “It will also send a message: The University still cares about you.”

—Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 3