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In the coming year, McLean Hospital will be working with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and area health care institutions on a pilot program to show the potential effectiveness and viability of a regional disaster health response system. The one-year demonstration project, which will be led by Paul D. Biddinger, MD, from MGH’s Center for Disaster Medicine, was made possible by a grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). For the project, the department awarded funding to MGH and Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska.
According to Christine Tebaldi, PMHNP-BC, director of Clinical Business Development and Psychiatric Emergency Services at McLean, “the grant was awarded to build a partnership for disaster health response across multiple domains.” These domains include trauma, medical surge, burn, prehospital care, pediatrics, mental health, chemical hazards, telemedicine, infectious diseases, deployable medical teams, radiological and nuclear hazards, and at-risk populations. “Mental health and substance use are important parts of these efforts, and that’s where McLean will be lending its expertise,” said Tebaldi.
The field of disaster mental health, Tebaldi explained, started as support to disaster responders. These individuals, she said, face long, arduous days during disaster relief efforts, and their work is incredibly stressful, which can lead to the need for mental health support. “A proactive approach promoting self-care and organizational health serves to create an effective and safe disaster relief operation,” said Tebaldi.
Tebaldi said that disaster mental health has expanded in scope over the years to address psychological impacts on people who have been affected by a disaster, including early intervention to help mitigate those effects. Another crucial component of disaster mental health, according to Tebaldi, is ensuring continuity of care for people already in treatment for mental health issues when disaster strikes.
McLean experts will offer insights and expertise to help create a viable disaster response system for the region. Central to the project will be the creation of a statewide network of technical advisors from participating health care institutions. This group will work to coordinate patient and resource movement during disasters, respond to unusual threats, and to develop capacity for surges in the need for medical services. Partnering institutions will also seek to establish an around-the-clock incident response and situational awareness center. The center would be staffed by health care emergency managers and experts from fields such as traumatic injuries, burns, chemical or radiation injuries, management of high consequence infectious diseases, and pediatric disaster management.
Tebaldi said that the first step for McLean is to work with MGH’s Center for Disaster Medicine team “to convene an expert panel that will advise on what a disaster response system should include as it relates to mental health.” She is confident that the collaborators can develop a successful plan. “MGH and the Center for Disaster Medicine, in collaboration with a number of partners across the region, are well positioned as leaders in disaster health response, given the infrastructure that already exists and the extensive experience these institutions have in the field,” she said.