After the suicides of two New York City health care workers in the past week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that U.S. military trauma specialists will be helping the city’s front-line workers heal from their ordeals battling the coronavirus pandemic.
“Think about what our doctors, our nurses, our health care workers have gone through, our EMTs, our paramedics,” de Blasio told reporters. “Think about the people they have had to watch pass away before their eyes.”
He said the workers have been pushed to the limit and should not have to carry that burden alone.
New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, has been an advocate for mental health and started the Thrive NYC mental health program. She is also working on the new initiative with the Department of Defense.
She said the front-line workers have been experiencing “battlefield conditions” as they fight the coronavirus.
“Their emotional state is a crisis within a crisis and an urgent mental health emergency,” McCray said Wednesday.
The U.S. military deals with post-traumatic stress disorder and combat stress within its ranks, and McCray said it can offer a unique insight into how to help front-line workers.
New York City has been among the hardest-hit places on the planet from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, the city of 8.6 million had 160,000 confirmed cases and more than 12,000 confirmed deaths.
More than 41,000 people have been sick enough to require hospitalization, at times overwhelming local hospitals. As the outbreak spread in mid-March, the city scrambled to acquire enough personal protective equipment for workers. Many health care providers and first responders have been sickened while responding to the pandemic.
One of them was 49-year-old Manhattan emergency room doctor Lorna Breen. She contracted the virus and went back to work after about 10 days. Her hospital sent her home, and her parents brought her to their home in Virginia, where after talking about the horrors she had seen, she took her own life last Sunday.
Her father, Philip Breen, who is also a doctor, told The New York Times that his daughter was “truly in the trenches of the front line.” He said she was a hero who was just as much a casualty as anyone else who has died from the virus.
John Mondello, 23, graduated in February from the New York Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) academy. Just weeks after he started working, the virus started its rapid transmission across the city. Those who knew him say he was a happy young man, but the stress of the virus overwhelmed him, and he took his own life last Friday.
As part of the new mental health initiative, military trauma specialists will assess individual hospitals and tailor programs to their needs. They will also train small groups at each hospital in combat stress management, who will then train an additional 1,000 public and private hospital staff. The services will continue to be available after the pandemic ends.
McCray said the program is underway and expects it to be fully operational in May.
New York has passed its coronavirus peak, as tracking indicators show new infections are decreasing and hospitalizations are slowing.
The progress has been hard-fought, and the mayor sparked tensions with some in the city’s Jewish community Tuesday, when he tweeted condemnation of a large gathering at the funeral of a Hasidic rabbi.
De Blasio visited the Brooklyn neighborhood to see the situation firsthand, and the police disbursed the mourners. He was unapologetic on Wednesday, despite some criticism, saying there were “thousands” of people at the gathering in blatant violation of social distancing directives.
“You have heard in great detail me telling people they cannot gather from all religious communities in their houses of worship. That’s been going on for weeks,” de Blasio said in response to reporters’ questions. “We have talked about funerals before, as well — that’s why I’m so angry. We have given plenty of warnings.”
He said if such a large gathering happened again anywhere in the city, the police would issues summons and arrest people.
The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which tracks and fights anti-Semitism, has accused the mayor of “contributing to dangerous stereotyping of all New York Jewry by his outburst.”
But the SWC also said it “denounces those members of our community and all other New Yorkers whose thoughtless and reckless behavior threatens the well-being of us all.”
Source: Voice of America