HUNTINGTON — Members of Huntington’s Mayors Challenge team gathered with city firefighters and police officers Monday morning at City Hall to watch the live announcement that the city was selected as one of the winners of the 2018 Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams was in Detroit, Michigan, to receive the $1 million award in a ceremony that was broadcasted live from CityLab. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the formal announcement of the nine winning cities, which included Huntington.

Bloomberg said Huntington was selected for its innovative

approach to combating compassion fatigue experienced by first responders, who are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic.

“Mayors across the country are tackling the big issues that Washington is ignoring. This competition is designed to help them do even more, by incentivizing and supporting big — and achievable — new ideas,” said Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term mayor of New York City. “Congratulations to all of the winning mayors, who represent cities large and small, in regions across the country. We look forward to seeing the results of their work — and to helping the ideas that prove most effective spread far and wide.”

The nationwide competition encouraged city leaders to propose “bold, inventive” ideas to confront their cities’ toughest problems, providing finalists with funds for a six-month implementation phase. Huntington will support first responders on the front line of the opioid crisis by embedding mental healthcare professionals within emergency response departments.

Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader was one of the five original members of the Huntington’s Mayors Challenge team to help write the grant application. She said the opioid epidemic exposed the painful lack of mental health services for first responders, whose mental well-being often took a backseat to the people they were saving.

“It’s amazing that we have incredible leadership that is willing to listen to what is going on in the front lines and help them,” she said. “We have had issues with compassion fatigue for years, and while first responders are supposed to be tough people they are still human, so this news is huge.”

Huntington’s proposal includes having wellness coordinators engage with first responders and develop training to improve mental health, attitudes toward substance use disorder and interactions with overdose victims. The goal is to combat “compassion fatigue,” which are feelings of depleted empathy in the face of overwhelming overdose calls.

“Caretakers have been the forgotten victims of the epidemic we are dealing with and we need to lift them up and make sure they are healthy,” Rader said.

Williams said he is thrilled to have the city’s efforts recognized on the national stage.

“The Mayors Challenge is coming in and acknowledging that what we are doing is setting a standard for the rest of the nation to follow,” he said.

There were 254 applicants in the challenge and that group was narrowed to 35 finalists. This is the city’s second recognition from Bloomberg Philanthropies, having being named one of 10 finalists in the Cities of Service Engaged Cities Awards. Huntington was given distinction for efforts to improve the overall health of residents through activities and greater access to nutritious foods.

Bloomberg Philanthropies U.S. Mayors Challenge is a yearlong competition that challenged city leaders to uncover and test bold, inventive ideas to confront the toughest problems faced by cities today.

For more information, visit mayorschallenge.bloomberg.org.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter at @FredPaceHD.

Source: The Associated Press