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Houston Texans Get Strong, Go Long On Mental Health
When Philip Burguieres, Vice Chairman of the Houston Texans, experienced a serious episode of depression earlier in his career, he was appalled to learn that treatment for mental illness was not covered at the same level as other medical conditions. He found this practice unfair, stigmatizing, and a barrier to people needing mental health treatment. Burguieres decided to change the status quo and in doing so paved the way for the Houston Texans to become the first National Football League (NFL) franchise to provide mental health parity for its workers.
Glenda Morrison, the Texans’ director of human resources, describes implementation of mental health parity as a natural progression for their organization. Burguieres has made no secret about his experiences with clinical depression and always has an open-door policy, encouraging those who may be facing similar difficulties to feel free to talk with him about it. Robert C. McNair, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of the Texans and lifelong friend of Burguieres, shares the same philosophy that mental health and physical health are strongly tied and that illness in either area should be treated equally with no differences in reimbursement.
“If you’re gonna take care of the whole person, you have to take care of [the] brain also,” asserted Burguieres while being interviewed for a public television program that aired this August called “Depression: Out of the Shadows.”
To implement mental health parity, the Texans sought an insurance carrier to work with them hand in hand designing a plan with equal co-pays and deductibles across behavioral and medical/surgical areas. To their surprise, carriers predicted their healthcare costs would increase 20%-25% if they offered such generous coverage in behavioral health.
In 2002, the first year of operations for the Texans, parity was instituted. Cigna agreed to equalize the Texans’ plans with the understanding that there would likely be additional charges based on increased costs as the plan year progressed. That never happened, because total costs did not increase. “People used the mental health benefits, but in the overall scheme of things, it didn’t affect our base rate at all,” Burguieres told PBS. Their premiums stayed the same.
The Texans are currently insured through Aetna, which provides seamless coverage of behavioral health, medical/surgical benefits, and long-term disability management. Their employee assistance program (EAP), included in their behavioral health coverage, offers 24-hour access to counseling by phone, assessment, brief treatment, and referral, plus services such as legal and elder assistance.
Seamless coverage in this case means clients can continue in treatment with their initial mental health clinician if a strong therapeutic relationship has been established, say with a clinician in their EAP, rather than switch after the designated free sessions. With no special restrictions on referrals, barriers to seeing behavioral health specialists are removed. EAP services are available to anyone living in an employee’s home, which can help reduce the stress of caring for elderly parents or grandchildren.
The Right Tone Matters
Morrison feels that setting a tone from the top of the organization about the importance of the parity policy encourages employees to seek help when needed. In addition, the Texans have annual benefit enrollment meetings where they discuss all benefit offerings, provide printed information, and bring in representatives from their carriers to answer employee questions. New hires meet one-on-one with benefit personnel to learn about using the resources. They may not remember all the details, but they learn whom to call when they have questions.
“In human resources, you have to constantly remind people exactly what their benefits are, what they include, and what they mean,” said Morrison. “But people simply feel it when there is a culture and a climate where it’s okay to talk about mental health and where early treatment is encouraged, not shoved under the table. Management here cares about employees on an individual basis, and employees value that.”
Wellness Philosophy Prevails
Although the Texans have no formal name for their wellness program, the philosophy of good health is everywhere in the organization. CEO and Chairman McNair is an avid exerciser and supports a healthy work culture. The Texans’ administrative offices are located in the stadium, and staff work right alongside the players. Staff can use the strengthening and conditioning facilities, and the strength and conditioning coaches are happy to assist with workouts. Healthy lunches planned by the team’s experienced dietician are free to all players and front-office staff. The dietician and the Texans’ conditioning coach share their expertise with the Houston community through regular presentations at events and joint appearances on a local radio talk show.
Morrison also supports community health efforts by participating on a task force with the local affiliate of Mental Health America (MHA) to draw in other employers who are addressing mental health together. The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health will talk with some of these Houston area employers along with national MHA representatives at a meeting planned for early 2009. In addition, the Texans participate in the Mayor’s Wellness Association in Houston along with a number of other employers, health and welfare carriers, and wellness vendors.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association recognized the Houston Texans as a Psychologically Healthy Workplace.
Burguieres Reaches Across the Globe
Burguieres has helped raise other business leaders’ awareness of the importance of addressing mental health alongside physical health by speaking out in Texas, across the U.S., and even outside the country. He believes reaching out to others in promoting mental health is one of the most helpful ways to ward off the return of depression. Burguieres hopes that his experience will encourage big businesses to take a longer-term view of mental illness. “Some of the most creative people in the world suffer from depression or other mental problems,” he says. “You need to nurture those people and take care of them because they will be the ones who are going to be valuable.”
About the Houston Texans
The Houston Texans joined the National Football League (NFL) as an expansion team in 2002. Their 125 full-time employees include coaching, front office, and non-player staff.
Nancy Spangler, PhD, OTR/L is a consultant to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation.
Last Updated: October 2008
Championing a Cause. American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards.
View the PBS program “Depression: Out of the Shadows,” which aired in August 2008 and included an interview with Philip Burguieres.