October 21, 2008
222 South Warren Street
Trenton, NJ 08625
Forum focuses on mental health relief services in major disasters
ATLANTIC CITY – Mental health experts and disaster response teams from throughout the Northeast are attending a forum here on improving response services during large-scale emergency relief efforts in the region.
The forum, “Beyond the Crisis Counseling Program: Strategies for Responding to Unprecedented Events,” is hosted by the New Jersey Division of Mental Health Services (DMHS) in partnership with the Mental Health Association in New Jersey . The workshops were conducted today and yesterday.
The goal of the forum is to develop a comprehensive regional consortium of a variety of emergency responders in order to better integrate disaster behavioral health services into all aspects of emergency preparedness, planning, response and recovery.
“A prepared and coordinated approach with fellow states is vital in order to improve the way we as a region respond to psychological issues resulting from disaster,” said DMHS Assistant Commissioner Kevin Martone . “Regional catastrophic planning is crucial to a successful response.”
Attendees include representatives from Mental Health Authorities and departments of Health and Emergency Management from states throughout the northeastern United States , from Maine to Ohio to Washington , D.C.
The workshops focus on the steps and training necessary to form the consortium and foster partnerships between and among state agencies in the region in preparation for disastrous events that would require a multi-state response.
Current crisis counseling programs vary among the states and the forum's goal is to develop a more enhanced comprehensive model to serve people with behavioral and mental health issues during a regional crisis.
Other states have expressed an interest in New Jersey 's unique Training and Credentialing program to certify its disaster response crisis counselors. Technical assistance materials are being provided to facilitate this type of program for interested states.
Representatives from other states also are presenting information about one of their successful emergency response projects and suggestions on how they can be replicated.
Mental health responders are examining how they can better maximize the federal Emergency Management Assistance Compact system to access resources.
Other topics include methods of deploying counselors during a disaster, training necessary for the crisis counselors, and the importance of partnerships with all emergency response, law enforcement, homeland security, health and volunteer agencies.
“During a disaster previous partnerships can make the difference between an effective response and recovery or one that is filled with additional difficulties,” said Gladys Padro, Director of the DMHS Disaster and Terrorism Branch.