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Americares to Expand Mental Health Services in Puerto Rico

  • April 03, 2018

Stamford, Conn. — April 3, 2018 — Americares has made a commitment to expand access to mental health and psychosocial services for health workers and first responders on the frontlines of the Hurricane Maria recovery in Puerto Rico.

Former President Bill Clinton and Americares President and CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis announced “Healing for Health Workers: Building Mental Health Capacity in Post-Maria Puerto Rico” as a Commitment to Action at the Clinton Global Initiative Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery meeting in Miami today.

The health-focused relief and development organization will train 5,000 health workers and emergency responders across the island to better identify, assess and respond to the mental health and psychosocial needs of patients through educational workshops as well as create access to focused support groups and individual counseling sessions to address their own mental health needs.

Puerto Rico is in the midst of a mounting mental health crisis as storm survivors feel overwhelmed by the loss of homes and loved ones and face increasing financial pressure in a difficult economy. In addition, many health providers are seeing patients with anxiety, fearful of the coming hurricane season and the additional challenges it might bring. Suicides in Puerto Rico have increased—Puerto Rico’s Department of Health reported a 29 percent increase in 2017. Last year the department reported 253 suicides, up from 196 in 2016. Calls to suicide hotlines have also spiked in recent months.

“We will expand the capacity of health workers and emergency responders to identify and treat hurricane survivors with mental health needs and connect them to services, as well as support health workers’ own needs,” said Americares Vice President of Emergency Programs Kate Dischino. “We need to care for the caregivers as they are survivors themselves.”

The initiative is designed to address common post-disaster symptoms including job burnout, compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress and vicarious traumatization, giving providers the tools to care for themselves so they can continue to care for survivors as well as work with communities to destigmatize mental illness and provide psychosocial support. The training workshops and counseling sessions will run through 2019.

Americares will work with the Puerto Rico Department of Health, the Puerto Rico Primary Care Association and the Puerto Rico Psychology Association to implement its Commitment to Action initiative with funding from BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company) and Johnson & Johnson.

Americares helps communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters, increase access to medicine and medical supplies, improve and expand clinical services, prevent disease and promote good health. Its emergency response team responds to an average of 30 natural disasters and humanitarian crises worldwide each year from earthquakes and cyclones to disease outbreaks and civil conflict.

Americares has been on the ground in Puerto Rico since September, working to restore health services for survivors. Its emergency response team has been restocking health clinics with medicine and supplies, deploying medical teams to provide care and helping damaged health centers stay open for survivors. To date, Americares has delivered $35 million in aid for Hurricane Maria survivors in Puerto Rico.

The Clinton Global Initiative Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery focuses on five key areas: energy, infrastructure, health, education and economic development. The Commitments to Action aim to improve disaster recovery and support the sustainable, inclusive and resilient rebuilding of the region.