Q&A: Mental Health, Family and Financial Resources Available for Drexel Employees

Woman video chatting with a woman on the laptop.

Have you been feeling anxious about the return to campus? SupportLinc, Drexel University’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), is here to help — so you don’t have to deal with life’s challenges and transitions alone.

Available anytime, any day, SupportLinc offers a variety of personal and professional guidance at no cost. Drexel employees (faculty, professional staff and retirees) and graduate students can access these services, and many more, through Drexel’s provider, SupportLinc.

SupportLinc gives you and any of your household members access to confidential, in-person or virtual 24/7 counseling with a licensed professional. In addition, you have access to their experienced team of specialists who can help you through all stages of life, with provided services such as dependent/elder care referrals, retirement coaching, concierge expert referrals and financial and legal services.

As we all know, 2020 was quite a turbulent year. The Drexel community was experiencing not just a global pandemic, but the social unrest and injustice that was taking a toll on Black and people of color’s mental health, as well as a turbulent election year. At the Drexel leadership level and within the University’s Anti-Racism Task Force, questions were surfacing about the quality of mental health resources that were made available to the Drexel community — and if that community was tapping into them. Human Resources reviewed Drexel’s offering at the time and determined that there was an opportunity to ramp up the quality, services and measurement of Drexel’s EAP.

With the advocacy and support of executive leadership, Human Resources Senior Leave & Disability Resources Consultant Jacob Bononcini was asked to lead the search and implementation of a more robust EAP provider. Bononcini quickly pulled a review committee together with representatives from Student Life, the Graduate School and the Total Rewards team in Human Resources, and the SupportLinc partnership was communicated and rolled out across the University in the spring of 2021.

Under Bononcini’s leadership and through the SupportLinc partnership, Drexel has been able to provide better support and services while also gathering relevant and pertinent data that will continue to help grow offerings of mental health support to the Drexel community. And with 2021 proving to be challenging year as well, SupportLinc has been embraced by our Drexel community and their families.

Employees can attend an information session about EAP and SupportLinc on Sept. 29 from 12–1 p.m. by registering for the event on Career Pathway. But before then, in this Q&A, Bononcini explains the variety of available services that can be accessed, and why it’s important that Dragons and members of their households can, and should, receive this kind of help.

Q: Can you explain your role at Drexel, pre-pandemic?

Senior Leave & Disability Resources Consultant Jacob Bononcini. Photo courtesy Jacob Bononcini.

A: I started at Drexel in July of 2017 in Human Resources specifically in our HRIS department. Through the years, I have held different positions and was recently promoted to senior leave & disability resources consultant. This role was originally created in January 2020 to provide a more streamlined process for those individuals requesting a leave of absence and/or accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): a one-stop shop, if you will, where employees can talk to one HR representative when sharing personal and intimate details of their lives. This role requires a high level of empathy and understanding, but also complex analysis and critical thinking.

In my role, I oversee and manage all of Drexel’s leave of absence programs and policies, which includes FMLA and non-FMLA as well as our personal and military leave policies. I also oversee all disability areas as it relates to employees — that includes plan design and implementation of short/long term disability and ADA workplace accommodations.

Lastly, I oversee and am the program lead for SupportLinc.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about Drexel’s EAP services before and after SupportLinc?

A: Before the pandemic, Drexel already had an EAP provider, but there wasn’t a high utilization of the service that they provided, and we were very limited with what type of reporting and data could be delivered to us. It just wasn’t the best service that we could provide to employees, especially if we couldn’t get a true understanding of what the Drexel community needed and couldn’t access data and metrics on employees’ mental health and what we’re doing to support them.

Through support from Drexel Executive Leadership and the Anti-Racism Task Force, Drexel wanted to implement a new employee assistance program and we worked with one of our external consultants through the RFP process and interviewed about four services. With the help of my Total Rewards Team, and the office of Student Life and the Graduate College, we decided to go with SupportLinc because they offered a very robust service that allowed us to get everything that we would want from a data perspective, confidentially, and provide our employees with best-in-class services! It should also be noted that Drexel does not get any individual employee information from SupportLinc as all services are considered confidential. We only receive the number of employees and services being utilized.

Q: Who at Drexel can use these services?

A: SupportLinc is free and open to all Drexel employees (faculty and professional staff), graduate students and, now, Drexel retirees (there may be a cost to additional services). Historically, EAP services were not provided to our retiree population; however, during the pandemic, I felt that this was a population that could really utilize these services. Watching the news and seeing aging populations struggle with loneliness and isolation really influenced me in terms of how we can best support them.

SupportLinc is also open to family and household members of the Drexel employee, graduate student and retiree at no cost!

Q: What kinds of mental health services are provided through SupportLinc?

A: There are two main components of SupportLinc. One is in-the-moment counseling, or in-the-moment support, which is exactly what it sounds like. If you are feeling down that day and need some extra support or someone to talk to about a tough decision, a SupportLinc specialist will talk to you in the moment for as long as it takes to get you in a better state. Then, they may refer you to short-term counseling sessions or refer you to an article or a program that they provide. That’s free and available 24/7 and unlimited for employees, graduate students, retirees and members of their household. 

The second component is short-term counseling for short-term issues. Now, if it’s an ongoing issue, the employee may be able to continue seeing that counselor through their health insurance and SupportLinc has a whole list of in-network providers. But the first six sessions per year are free and that’s for you, family members, and anyone that’s living in your home, like a roommate. For example, let’s say right now I’m dealing with depression; I can have six free sessions for my depression. And then let’s say I’m dealing with anxiety outside of that depression for a different issue; I can get six free sessions for that. Basically: it’s six free sessions per issue, per year, per person.

Q: What are some of the other services people can use SupportLinc for?

A: One is the dependent and elder care. What’s really great about the dependent care, especially with parents returning to work or new or expecting parents, is that employees can get unlimited sessions to speak to a work-life specialist for everything from adoption services to finding summer camps to tutoring. For example, if the parent needs to find daycare, that specialist will meet with the parents for up to an hour, and they’ll do as many sessions as needed, and they will work with those parents for what is needed in terms of childcare. Same with elder care, if they’re looking for a nursing home, for example. Do they want something within a two-mile radius? What is their price range? The specialist will do all the research for that family and send them a list of all of the providers that fit and match those needs, usually within two business days. That personalized consultation is actually quite different from the EAP we had before, where you would have to look for a provider. SupportLinc takes it an extra step and really takes into consideration the things that best suit you and your family.

SupportLinc also has a program called Retirement Coach. Retirement specialists can work with all employees, from people wanting to retire in, say, 20 years to someone who wants to support a parent or spouse who is retiring. Employees will receive consultation and guidance from a licensed clinician experienced in transitioning to retirement, as well as referrals to resources for adjusting to retirement. Drexel wants to ensure that your emotional needs are met through this life transition.

SupportLinc also has concierge expert services in which work-life specialists assist anyone with basically any possible request. SupportLinc’s knowledgeable specialists provide referrals to resources that help address a wide range of services such as travel, car rental, vacation planning, pet care, home repair and housing needs. Whatever need arises, SupportLinc’s work/life specialists are there to help.

SupportLinc also has financial and legal services. For financial services, employees receive a free 30-minute consultation to discuss all the needs you might have, from bankruptcy to identity theft to debt reduction goals, etc. And if you move forward with the financial partner or planner, there could be a fee dependent on what services are being provided. It’s the same with the legal services — you get 30 minutes for a free virtual or in-person consultation with a local attorney, and you may move forward with that attorney with a fee, just like any other attorney. But the added benefit is that free 30 minutes to discuss exactly what they need without cost.  

Now, outside of financial and legal services, everything that I mentioned before is completely free, completely unlimited and, most importantly, completely confidential. You can have unlimited referrals for dependent elder care, unlimited retirement coach sessions, unlimited concierge services and unlimited in-the-moment care and support. The only other cap would be the six free counseling sessions, per issue per year. And again, it’s open to family members and household members, graduate students and retirees.  

Q: How can people access SupportLinc?

A: I always send people to the Employee Assistance Program page on our website, and there’s a QR code to download the app. But you can also access the SupportLinc web portal from that page — you enter the password, which is “drexel” in all lowercase, and then from there you can look for resources outside of all of these services that they provide. The website provides even more services. If you scan the QR code and get the mobile app, it’s basically similar to the web portal. There’s also a phone number for SupportLinc on the website, but there’s no way to connect with the live representative that way.

SupportLinc's QR code and other resources. Photo courtesy Jacob Bononcini.

When you access that web portal, there’s a dashboard with a variety of resources and information. There’s a “What’s On Your Mind” toolbar where you can search for any issue that you’re having, including work issues. If you search for it, you get regular articles written on the topic any available training SupportLinc has. For instance, type in “diversity” and there’s a flash course on promoting healthy discussions about race, a flash course on culture and diversity in the workplace, and a flash course on preventing sexual harassment. We tell supervisors to use this as well for resources for their staff.

There’s also a tool called Navigator, which is an emotional fitness test to help people who don’t really understand what they need. Do they need in-the-moment support? Do they need the six free sessions of counseling? Do they need a training that SupportLinc can provide them? Sometimes they just don’t know. So employees can use Navigator at any time, and it’s unlimited, and they’ll be asked a few questions on how they’re feeling and then they’ll receive a personalized assessment with recommendations that can be accessed at any time.

There’s another program, Animo, which is a mental health digital resource you can access anytime. It’s a self-directed module people can go through and receive recommendations based off assessments.

Q: Is there anything else that you want people to know about with SupportLinc and these kinds of services? Or are there any misconceptions you’d like to see cleared up? 

A: I think there’s a negative connotation when it comes to EAP services. Yes, EAP services are there for mental health, but there are so many other services that they provide and it’s virtually free!

The EAP is so important to me because I want employees to put their mental health and families first. I want them to feel supported and cared for by Drexel, and to know that we have their best interest at heart. We want them to feel supported fully which includes their lives outside of the workplace.

I love that SupportLinc is focused on diversity, equity and inclusion practices. SupportLinc has translation services for anyone that would need translation done. If you want a specific counselor that aligns with how you identify, they’re going to try their hardest to find a therapist that understands your diverse and cultural needs. They want to ensure that you’re met where your needs are. This was also very important to me as we witnessed the social unrest and injustice to the current global majority that have been underrepresented groups in higher ed and the workforce. People should feel safe with the person that they are entrusting their information with. SupportLinc aims to provide that safety!

SupportLinc also sends out resources ahead of time based on local and national/global news. If they see anything happening in a particular area where their clients are, they will send out resources immediately to get ahead of the situation.

Q: How does it feel now that everything’s been implemented?

A:I feel great because I know we are providing our Drexel community with best-in-class resources, and the utilization in the first quarter proves this. I am grateful to be in a role that has been life-giving to me. Now, there are challenges of course, but what I aim to provide is a safe space and trusting environment to all the employees I meet with. But I don’t just meet with people as a transactional type of conversation. I see the human in people, really emphasizing the “Human” in Human Resources.

Questions about SupportLinc and its services? Contact the HR Service Center by emailing hr@drexel.edu or calling 215.895.2850. Employees can also attend an information session about EAP and SupportLinc on Sept. 29 from 12–1 p.m. and can sign up to attend via Career Pathway.