The American Red Cross knows that recovering from a disaster involves rebuilding not only homes, but also lives as well.
“It is normal to go through a large event like Sandy and not be able to come out from it, even after a couple of months,” said Kerry Symon, Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) program director.
VNSNY is the largest not-for-profit home health care agency in the United States. The organization has been serving New York City since 1893.
This spring, the Red Cross awarded a $1 million grant to VNSNY to provide mental and community health services including crisis counseling; case management and outreach; and follow-up community health and wellness calls to people in Brooklyn, the Rockaways, Staten Island and Nassau County recovering from Superstorm Sandy.
Funded by the Red Cross grant, VNSNY developed the Disaster Distress Response Program, a model of care specific to the mental health needs of those affected by the storm. VNSNY then hired seven licensed therapists and two social work assistants trained by the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“The goal of our program is for people affected by Sandy to see an improvement in their quality of life, increase their sense of hope and tap into their own resiliency and strengths,” Symon said.
Participants in the 10-week program meet weekly for an hour with a therapist who comes to their home or wherever they may be living temporarily. Week one is psychological education on the normal reactions to a disaster; week two is behavioral activation and relaxation techniques; week three is introduction to thoughts and feelings, and so on.
“I think it’s somewhat therapeutic for them to be like, ‘This was my basement, this is a piece of my home,’” Symon said. “I have a client who framed a piece of her home, which had been destroyed, and hung it in her new apartment. One client can’t live in her home but wants to do sessions on its porch.”
Melissa Martin, licensed therapist at VNSNY, said people respond well to the program because it teaches practical stress management techniques like breathing relaxation and cognitive restructuring, which helps people make connections between thoughts and feelings.
“It’s not your typical talk therapy. People learn true skills they can take with them when they’re done,” Martin said. “The counseling really helps people find a sense of normalcy.”
The program has had more than 200 referrals for people needing help and conducted more than 600 one-on-one counseling sessions.
In addition to individual care, VNSNY has reached more than 4,500 people through presentations to organizations, schools, clinics and public agencies about reactions to disaster and ways to cope with stress.
In the days and months after Sandy struck, trained Red Cross disaster mental health workers made more than 113,000 health and mental health contacts with people affected by the storm. In addition to the funding for VNSNY, the Red Cross has provided grants to FEGS Health & Human Services, Children’s Health Fund and other groups offering mental health services to people affected by Sandy.
If you or a loved one has been affected by Sandy and need emotional support, you can call Visiting Nurse Service of New York at 718-888-6955.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCrossNY.