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Dallas considers mental health leave for city employees who experience a traumatic event

A photograph picturing the Dallas City Hall building in the background and a tree in the foreground.
Keren Carrión
The Government Performance and Finance Management Committee voted unanimously to present a mental health leave proposal to the Dallas City Council.

Dallas officials have proposed making more than 8,000 city employees eligible for five days of paid leave if they experience a traumatic event.

Human Resources director Nina Arias spoke to the city’s Government Performance and Finance Management Committee on Monday about eligibility for the program.

If approved, any city employee who experiences a traumatic event at work and provides the need for leave verified by a mental health professional could take five days of paid leave.

She also spoke about the financial cost of the program, which would be a little more than $200,000 a year.

Committee chair Cara Mendelsohn said the committee had discussed using the city’s excess sales tax to fund the program.

But while funding the program was still up for discussion, Arias said it could prove invaluable. She noted that at least five city employees have died by suicide in the past year, including two firefighters.

“What we are hoping to do through this program is to give people an incentive to go in and speak with a mental health professional,” Arias said. “So to take that first step to make that connection to establish that relationship so that they can better take care of themselves.”

City Council member Adam Bazaldua motioned to forward the program proposal to the city council. He said it’s critical for the city to be taking up mental health as an investment for all city employees.

The city already provides five days of mental health leave for peace officers who experience a traumatic event. This program would give more than 8,000 city employees the benefit.

“I want to be very, very clear that we should not in any way try to rank one's trauma, we should never be one to judge where, you know, the walks of life that others have gone through, and I'm not discounting anybody's experiences,” Bazaldua said.

The committee voted unanimously to move the proposal forward to the city council.

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Pablo Arauz Peña is the breaking news reporter for KERA News.