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New York City Deploys Additional Mental Health and Emergency Management Professionals to Puerto Rico

January 27, 2020

32 additional City personnel will deploy to assist with the response efforts

NEW YORK—First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray today announced that New York City will deploy nine additional mental health and public health emergency management professionals to Puerto Rico to support affected municipalities including Guayanilla, Ponce, Guanica, Lajas, Yauco, and Peñuelas following the recent earthquakes and aftershocks. Sixteen additional building inspectors and engineers, and seven emergency managers will also deploy to assist in the response efforts.

“Thousands of families in Puerto Rico are suffering from severe trauma and stress, brought on by the hurricane, earthquake and ongoing tremors, and they need help to address the dislocation and distress.” said First Lady Chirlane McCray. “New York City is proud to send mental health professionals who will provide meaningful support and assistance during this difficult time. We will always stand with the people of Puerto Rico.”

The City’s mental health counselors will be assigned to shelters in affected communities, and will provide services in the field:

  • Distribution of Psychoeducation: To normalize and explain stress reactions, inform people to empower them with knowledge that can help them do what is best and most helpful for them in response to disaster
  • Provide Psychological First Aid (PFA): Help normalize emotions, emotionally support individuals through the current event, help individuals connect with needed resources, information or loved ones, provide tips on coping with stressful events.
  • Crisis Counseling: Offer crisis counseling to help them review their options and problem solve.
  • Refer and/or link with support and services: Refer person to local services and long term mental health support i.e. hotline and/or hospital.
  • Link with crisis services: If someone is in immediate distress and/or danger.

Today’s response team also consists of sixteen additional building inspectors and engineers, and seven emergency managers. The New York City personnel are experienced in areas including structural stability inspections, logistics, planning and operations and mental health support. The City’s team was requested through City-to-City mutual aid agreements that facilitate disaster assistance. During the deployment, the team will work closely with the municipalities of San Juan, Guayanilla, Ponce, Guanica, Lajas, and Peñuelas to coordinate resources to assist with structural damage assessments and mental health and counseling services. To date, NYC building inspectors and engineers have conducted more than 6,000 structural assessments in Peñuelas, Guayanilla, and San Juan. 

This is the third team to deploy to Puerto Rico in response to the recent earthquakes. A team of four personnel: one from NYPD, two from NYC Emergency Management, and one from the Department of Buildings, deployed on Thursday, January 9 to work closely with local officials to conduct assessments and identify additional resources following the earthquakes. On January 14, a team of 24 personnel deployed to begin conducting structural assessments support mental health initiatives. This team will replace both teams. The total number of City personnel who have deployed to Puerto Rico to assist in the response efforts is now 60.

“The current conditions in Puerto Rico are putting many people at serious risk for mental trauma. New York City will always stand in support of Puerto Rico, and I am proud of the team of Health Department professionals leaving on deployment today,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “For New Yorkers who may have family or loved ones on the Island, I want you to know help is available. Anyone can call 1-888-NYC-WELL or text “WELL” to 65173 for free, confidential support any hour of the day.”

“Last week I visited the outdoor shelters in some of the affected communities, and I saw firsthand the importance for mental health professionals on the ground. Every day, people relive their traumatic experiences through tremors and aftershocks. Many are sleeping under tents, afraid to return home for fear that another earthquake could devastate their community. Health Department counselors can provide the emotional care, counseling and support to help these individuals cope during this difficult period,” said NYC Emergency Management Commissioner Deanne Criswell.

“Ensuring our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico feel safe and secure in their homes is key to recovery,” said DOB Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca. “I want to personally thank our hardworking inspectors and structural engineers who have already conducted more than 6,000 rapid structural inspections of homes and buildings across the island, and also thank their colleagues who will soon be joining them. We are proud to offer our experience and expertise to the people of Puerto Rico in their time of need.”

“I've visited several areas in Puerto Rico hit by the recent earthquakes and know that additional assistance is still needed,” said Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz. “Mental health counseling can be especially effective after emergencies. I am grateful to New York City for sending mental health professionals to the island at this critical time. It's another example of New Yorkers demonstrating leadership and responsibility."

“Puerto Ricans across the island are dealing with heightened anxiety following the recent earthquakes. Many are still grappling with trauma inflicted by Hurricane Marĩa, which is why sending mental health professionals to the island is so important," said Council Member Diana Ayala. "These disaster victims need access to crisis counseling and psychological first aid as they work to regain normalcy in their lives. As Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, I thank Mayor de Blasio and First Lady McCray for deploying this crucial team to help impacted communities.”

“I witnessed firsthand the impact of Hurricane Maria and the worst earthquake in 100 years in Puerto Rico,” said Council Member Fernando Cabrera. “I spent time in the hardest hit areas during both crises assisting the emergency relief efforts and talking one on one with those affected. As a mental health professional it strongly evident that people are suffering from depression, trauma, and stress-related conditions.'The need for mental health counselors, chaplains and psychologists is overwhelming.' I commend the City’s effort to deploy 10 mental health and emergency management professionals.”

“When natural disasters occur, it is the visual evidence that remains with a person viewing from afar,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca. “What we cannot see is the psychological impact a traumatic experience has on a person. Thousands of Puerto Ricans are experiencing this now, constantly worrying about the long-term future of them and their families. I applaud the administration for recognizing this struggle and sending additional New York City personnel, including mental health professionals, to Puerto Rico to aid in the next steps of the relief efforts.”

“Having just returned from our own relief operations in Puerto Rico, I witnessed both a humanitarian crisis unfolding, and the generosity of fellow islanders and mainland Americans responding. This developing crisis on the island requires exactly the type of expertise that NYC is sending today - especially mental health and mass care support. Countless thousands of Puerto Ricans are camping outside earthquake damaged homes, with thousands more in both formal and informal camps. Societies most vulnerable individuals – the elderly, children, people with disabilities, the mentally ill and the traumatized – are even more vulnerable in these makeshift living conditions,” said Peter B. Gudaitis, M.Div., Executive Director & CEO, New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS).”  It will take years to rebuild, and the tremors still keep coming several times a day. I pray the team leaving today will bring much needed hope as well as technical expertise. Since Hurricane Maria, NYDIS has been working on recovery in Puerto Rico and providing direct services to over 3,000 Maria evacuees in NYC. Now we are launching a new Earthquake evacuee program. New York City is the capital of the Puerto Rican diaspora and our fellow Americans need our help. It is our civic and moral duty to help, once again, heal and rebuild the Island of Enchantment.”

“We are extremely grateful to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray for being in the forefront by sending mental health teams to Puerto Rico after Maria and now during the earthquakes. Puerto Rico will not be forgotten and the Silent Procession NYC4PR is committed to that it isn't, especially during this time of additional devastation endured from multiple earthquakes,” said Carmen V. Cruz, Founder, Silent Procession NYC4PR.

“Today’s announcement speaks to the strong connection between the communities on the island and in New York City. We will never be okay, if our loved ones on the island are enduring hardship, anxiety, and reliving trauma.  We are grateful to Mayor Bill De Blasio, and First Lady Chirlane McCray for prioritizing the mental health of our brothers and sister and trust that this is a long-lasting commitment,” said Elizabeth Pérez, Acting Executive Director, Diaspora for Puerto Rico, Inc.

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