Mental Health Training for Pediatricians Treating Sandy Survivors

Doctors learn to identify signs of distress in the youngest survivors

Stamford, Conn. – Sept. 10, 2013 – A new training program is teaching pediatricians to identify mental health issues in children affected by Hurricane Sandy. Participants receive instruction in how to recognize the signs and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health issues in young patients.

The Maimonides Infants & Children’s Hospital recently developed the four-hour training program in partnership with The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Pediatric Emergency Medicine with funding from AmeriCares Hurricane Sandy Relief Program. Physicians in the program are trained in how to identify anxiety and PTSD following a disaster; taught how to apply psychological first aid; and are educated on how to refer patients to mental health professionals.

The largest training session to date will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, September 11, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

“Thousands of children were forced to live in hotels or with friends and relatives after Hurricane Sandy. Some survived harrowing rescues from floodwaters, or watched as the storm surge destroyed their homes and neighborhoods,” said AmeriCares Vice President of Emergency Response Garrett Ingoglia. “Their lives were turned upside down in an instant, and yet we have learned from Hurricane Katrina and other emergencies that it can take months for children affected by natural disasters to exhibit symptoms of depression and other mental health issues. Ensuring they have access to mental health services is critical to the long-term recovery.”

The program is open to all pediatricians in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and the skills they learn can be applied to future storms, although recruitment has focused on the hardest hit areas of Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County, N.Y., where providers are treating Sandy survivors. The training is also open to pediatric nurse practitioners as well as family practice physicians and physician assistants working with children.

“We are targeting health care providers in the most devastated areas and giving them the tools and confidence to triage and refer patients to mental health professionals in their communities,” said Dr. Danielle Laraque, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Maimonides Infants & Children’s Hospital in Brooklyn. “We find that families are more open to mental health assistance when they access those services through pediatricians they trust.”

Maimonides and AmeriCares plan to replicate the training in Oklahoma in October to help pediatricians in the Oklahoma City area treating families affected by the May tornadoes.

AmeriCares has been aiding survivors of natural disasters, political conflict and extreme poverty around the world for more than 30 years, saving lives and restoring health and hope. AmeriCares Hurricane Sandy Relief Program focuses on restoring access to medical care and mental health services in storm-damaged communities. The program provides donated medicines and relief supplies, as well as cash grants to nonprofit organizations assisting the recovery efforts. To date, the nonprofit disaster relief and humanitarian aid organization has provided $6 million in aid benefitting more than 450,000 survivors, responders and volunteers assisting the recovery in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

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