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"Free EAP," ROI, Price Slashing And Defining EA Top List Of Concerns Is the employee assistance profession at a crossroad?"

The challenges are very real, and there are many of them, according to EA professionals who participated in the EAP Leadership Survey: Forecast 2004.

Survey participants were asked to identify the top issues or challenges facing the employee assistance profession in the year ahead. Expressed in different ways, the issues range from the impact of managed care behavioral health services; "1-800 EAP"; price slashing by managed care companies; pricing resulting in lower standards that make "EAPs not really EAPs"; funding and budgets; the commodization of EA services; the EA ROI issue; and even, survival of the EA profession.

For example, one respondent cited the "decreased value of EAPs based on the perception that EAPs are mainly "nice clinical programs," while another said a top concern for the profession this year is "changing to adapt to a new marketplace/workplace."

Defining EAP
"EAP is a valuable work-based tool that is effective in resolving problems before they escalate further," said one executive. "EAP has turned into another HMO mental health program where employees have exactly the same process (and shortcomings) as in their group health benefits insurance package."

The manager said that, "If EAP continues to act like and be identified as group insurance, that's what it will be."

"How are we going to market EAP if there isn't a clear definition of what we do?" observed Cal Paries, an EAP regional manager with an external EAP service.

"When I present my EAP product to a corporation and they state that they have one, a free EAP, providers throughout the country, phone-based EAP, or they say their local counseling center offers them an EAP, or their work\life services provider EAP referrals," the chief concern, therefore is "defining who we are."

Also in the category of defining EA, are the comments by Jeffrey A. Kaye, LCSW, CEAP, a manager who provides both internal and external EAP services, who said the chief issues are "moving the profession away from a bias toward 'clinical/ behavioral healthcare' EAP to 'organizational assistance'
EAP focus."

"Establishing return on investment data that demonstrates the core values of EAP to the employer versus simply being an employee only benefit" is another need, Kaye added. He also believes there must be an end to the "commodity pricing mentality of the past 10 plus years."

There is still not a "'universally' accepted definition of what constitutes an EAP so that 'apple to apple' comparisons can be made," answered the executive director of an internal\external program. That's why it's important to help client organizations "understand the definition and value of EAP."

"The world of EAP is changing rapidly across the county," said David Lehmann, vice president of business development overseeing a regional EAP for an external provider.
"There is no clear definition of EAP and currently many customers are looking for something different," Lehmann added.

"Being able to know and provide what they want is the key," he said.

And a related issue is "expanding the profession while some EAP firms including the large ones water down the service and undercut prices severely," according to the EAP director of an external provider.

Address: Employee Assistance Program Management Letter, 1913 Atlantic Ave., Suite F4, Manasquan, NJ 08736; (732) 292-1100, www.eapmanager.com.

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