New York City to deploy mental health experts to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018
NYC deploying mental health experts to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico
Lauren Glassberg has the latest on New York City launching a new initiative to help residents in Puerto Rico.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Nearly six months after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, many are still facing a long road to recovery. Now, New York City is launching a new initiative to help residents.

First Lady Chirlane McCray and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio on Tuesday announced the deployment of a 12-person team of mental and behavioral health experts from the health department to train school staff across Puerto Rico in psychological first aid for students who have experienced trauma and emotional challenges.

Additionally, the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City will provide a grant of $100,000 to the Hispanic Federation's UNIDOS Program to increase mental health services in Puerto Rico as part of the city's support to recovery efforts in the island.

The Hispanic Federation's UNIDOS Disaster Relief and Recovery Program will match the Mayor's Fund grant, bringing the total new support for community health centers in Puerto Rico to $200,000.

McCray and Dr. Palacio will travel to Puerto Rico to meet with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, Loiza Mayor Julia Nazario and public health and education officials to identify existing service challenges and gaps that may be addressed with additional technical resources from ThriveNYC and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"New Yorkers have a strong bond with Puerto Rico, and the people of our city have never hesitated to help our Puerto Rican sisters and brothers in a time of great need," McCray said. "As New York City continues to stand with Puerto Rico, we understand that healing emotional pain is not as straightforward as rebuilding physical structures, or restoring cell service."

During its two week deployment, New York City health department staff will offer mental health training sessions each day throughout Puerto Rico, including in San Juan and Mayaguez to up to 3,000 education staff in Puerto Rico on post-disaster stress management and self-care to support their coping, and post-disaster recovery.

The trainings will focus on stress management, self-care, and the importance of seeking mental health support for early intervention, and are based on evidence-based practice that reduces Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"It's both understandable and right that in the immediate aftermath of a disaster we focus first on health and safety," Dr. Palacio said. "But as the response effort continues, we begin to see how trauma and stress of the disaster can leave invisible wounds and lasting effects. That's why we're training 3,000 teachers across Puerto Rico with Psychological First Aid skills they can use to help themselves and their students during this time of recovery."

To build capacity for mental and behavioral health interventions for school staff in Puerto Rico, the team will work with school social workers through a "train-the-trainer" model. The goal is to train to up to 1,000 social workers on mental and behavioral health curricula to help Puerto Rico's Department of Education continue the trainings on the island in the coming months.


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