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Puerto Rico

Preparing Puerto Rico for Hurricane Season

  • May 30, 2019

6,000 trained to cope with stress and trauma from storms

MHPSS training in Puerto Rico

Americares holds a training for 150 health workers in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, on May 23 as part of the organization’s commitment to train 5,000 health workers and emergency responders to better cope with stress and trauma. Photo by Jeff Kennel/Americares

Stamford, Conn. – May 30, 2019 – As Puerto Rico heads into hurricane season, thousands of health workers and first responders across the island are better prepared to cope with stress and trauma caused by major storms.

Americares, a health-focused relief and development organization, teaches coping skills and psychological first aid through its Hurricane Maria Recovery Program. More than 6,000 health workers and first responders throughout the island have participated in group training sessions to date.

“Health workers and first responders are on the front lines of emergencies and often put the needs of patients and their communities before their own,” said Dr. Brenda Rivera-García, Puerto Rico director for Americares. “They suffer from job burnout, depression and anxiety that affects both their work and personal lives. We teach self-care strategies that build resilience and better prepare them for the next storm.”

Americares made a commitment to expand access to mental health and psychosocial services for health workers and first responders on the front lines of the recovery in Puerto Rico at the Clinton Global Initiative Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery in April 2018. Americares committed to train 5,000 health workers and emergency responders across the island to better identify, assess and respond to their own mental health needs as well as the needs of their patients. Specialized training sessions are provided for health workers working with elderly patients. Workshops are scheduled through the end of June.

Americares began offering mental health and psychosocial services to Hurricane Maria survivors at mobile medical clinics in underserved communities in the weeks after the storm. Demand remained strong in the months following, as survivors grappled with frequent power outages and separation from loved ones.

“At some mobile clinics Americares operated in the aftermath of the storm, lines for mental health and psychosocial services were as long as the lines for other health services,” Dr. Rivera-García said. “We saw an enormous need to support survivors’ resilience and recovery after the trauma and adversities they experienced. Loss is a common theme in our workshops as participants share experiences of losing loved ones, homes and a sense of community after Hurricane Maria.”

The program 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.

Americares is working with the Puerto Rico Department of Health, the Puerto Rico Primary Care Association, the Puerto Rico Psychology Association, Puerto Rico’s Old Age Advocacy Office and local organizations across the island to implement the program with funding from BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Johnson & Johnson, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Americares has been working to restore health services in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Since the September 2017 storm, Americares has delivered nearly $37 million in aid, including medicine and medical supplies, for Hurricane Maria survivors in Puerto Rico.

Americares helps communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters; increase access to medicine and medical supplies; improve and expand clinical services; and prevent disease and promote good health. Since its founding 40 years ago, Americares has provided more than $17 billion in aid to 164 countries, including the United States.