In conjunction with the New Jersey Certification Board, the Division of Mental Health Services in the Department of Human Services granted the unique certifications during a ceremony at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel.
“You put yourself in the thick of disaster, providing critical services right along with police, firefighters and other emergency responders,” Assistant Commissioner for Mental Health Services Kevin Martone told those who have completed the special training required for the new certification. “I can’t thank you enough. Your intervention will be vital during the worst crises of people’s lives.”
The new certification was recommended by the Governor’s Mental Health Task Force, appointed by former Governor Richard Codey, and was funded through a $250,000 allocation to the division’s Disaster and Terrorism Branch (DTB).
The dire need for professional mental health services during large-scale disasters and emergencies became more apparent after the September 11, 2001 terrorism attacks and several recent major floods.
“It was recognized that we need competent mental health responders, specially trained and credentialed professionals, to help people during these types of tragedies,” said Gladys Padro, who heads the DTB.
The Division of Mental Health Services works with the State Office of Emergency Management and the mental health administration in each county to coordinate responses and deployment. The Division and counties have coordinated thousands of mental health first responders for several past events, but these recipients are the first to get the new, specialized disaster training and certification.
The Division of Mental Health Services worked with the New Jersey Certification Board Inc. and the Mental Health Association in New Jersey to develop the curriculum and provide the training at several sites throughout the state. Organizations such as Doctors of the World, Mental Health Workers/Doctors without Borders, and the United Nations mission field operations guide were also consulted during the curriculum development.
The credentialing process involves three steps: 1) completion of an application which includes a “disaster response readiness” assessment; 2) completion of a structured personal interview; and 3) submission of references. Participants are also required to attend designated training and to undergo fingerprinting and background checks.
Training is held about three times per month throughout the state, and there are already 1,300 applicants.
The application is now available on line at the Mental Health Association in New Jersey’s website at www.njdrcc.org.