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APA gives LSUHSC psychiatry gold award for program in St. Bernard schools after Katrina

Mon, 11/01/2010 - 1:37pm
EurekAlert

New Orleans, LA The Department of Psychiatry at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans has been given the 2010 Gold Achievement Award by the American Psychiatric Association for a program credited by the St. Bernard Parish Public School System as key to reopening schools and recovery of the community after Hurricane Katrina. This is the top Psychiatric Services honor bestowed by the world's largest psychiatric organization.

The LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans Department of Psychiatry was recognized for "successfully integrating mental health services into the school system, youth leadership, and community outreach for children and families recovering from the traumatic effects of Hurricane Katrina," with the St. Bernard Family Resiliency Project.

Since October, 2005, the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans Department of Psychiatry and St. Bernard Parish Public School System have worked collaboratively to meet the psychosocial and educational needs of students and families returning to St. Bernard Parish after the devastation following Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005.

In St. Bernard, an adjacent parish to New Orleans, all of the 26,000 homes were destroyed or damaged due to heavy winds, rain, flooding and a large toxic oil spill from an overturned refinery tank. The St. Bernard Parish Public School System, under the courageous leadership of Superintendent Doris Votier and school administration, re-opened in November 2005 with about 365 students attending school in temporary structures, all of whom either lived in temporary trailers or commuted hours to school. Most areas of the parish did not have infrastructure with little electricity or running water. However, the school was home to many St. Bernard families.

The administration recognized that mental health support went hand in hand with education considering the trauma that all families and school personnel had experienced. For mental health support to be available, it had to be delivered in the school setting accompanied by training and support for the teachers about trauma and the effects on children and families. The LSUHSC Psychiatry Trauma Team knew that recovery would also need to focus on strengths which was the basis for the development of the St. Bernard Family Resiliency Project. The Project was designed to address individual, family and community level post disaster mental health issues and personal growth. In 2006, the Project was awarded a three-year grant by Baptist Community Ministries.

The Project not only provides and evaluates critically needed behavioral health services for children at risk for academic and behavioral difficulties and families of St. Bernard Parish, but also emphasizes the continuing needs and opportunities for growth five years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The remarkable partnership, between LSUHSC and the St. Bernard Parish Public School System has continued and has grown from one school to eleven.

A study was conducted on students that completed screenings at both the second and third post Katrina years and results suggest that 72.3% had recovered or demonstrated resilience and 27.7% were still displaying negative mental health symptoms.

"Our collaboration with St. Bernard Schools since Hurricane Katrina has been a life altering privilege," notes Dr. Howard Osofsky, Professor and Chairman of Psychiatry at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans. "From the first days when our LSU Health Sciences Center trauma team began to work, we knew that we were making a long term commitment to the students and families of St. Bernard Parish. Without schools even housed in temporary facilities families could not return. Without the excellence and commitment of the St. Bernard Schools, students could not have gained the remarkable resilience and leadership that we have witnessed during this time."

The St. Bernard Family Resiliency Project's innovation in providing mental health services within a school system, focusing on building strength and resiliency, has been shown to be an effective model that could be used nationally and internationally in disaster recovery.

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