Northwell Health opening trauma center for workers impacted by COVID-19

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021
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Michelle Charlesworth has more on the Northwell opening.

GARDEN CITY, Long Island (WABC) -- Nearly two million New Yorkers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with over 50,000 deaths, and perhaps the hardest hit are the frontline medical workers who have worked tirelessly over the past year to treat desperately ill patients while dealing with their own feelings of trauma, grief and loss.

Now, Northwell Health is launching the Center for Traumatic Stress, Resilience and Recovery to offer help to employees at the system's 23 hospitals and their families who are struggling with these issues.

"I think the center is unbelievable and needed," nurse Elyse Isopo said. "I consider myself a very strong person, and I didn't realize the toll it was taking on my until things started lightening up a little bit."

There was a time in the past year when her father had just been admitted while her mother was at home with COVID, and she had small children and a husband to worry about while on the front lines in harm's way.

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The new center is a partnership between Northwell's Behavioral Health Service Lien, Department of Occupational Medicine, and Human Resources. At the helm is Dr. Mayer Bellehsen, who compares COVID PTSD to trauma suffered by veterans.

"Traumatic stress can often come in the forms of witnessing or experiencing a threat such as loss of life, loss of loved ones, and too much wear and tear," he said.

Carlos Rivera is part of the hardworking cleaning crew that kept everything sanitary at Cohen Children's Medial Center. He suffered terribly after his grandmother and his father died of COVID just 11 days apart.

"Grandma had a lot of underlying issues, but dad didn't," he said. "Grandma died on April 3, and dad died a year (ago) today...It was tough, the most hardest thing I ever had to endure in my life."

Resilience services have been designed help employees deal with their stress before it overtakes their lives, and the work will be performed by clinicians trained in the treatment of trauma-related conditions and symptoms.

Those include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, insomnia and more. And this prioritizing of mental health is already helping.

"This morning, I woke up and I wasn't OK," Rivera said. "I have the support of my family and my wife and my children. They made me feel a lot better with hugs and kisses."

It is their belief that a center of this type will go a long way towards starting the healing process for traumatized health care workers.

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