By Lazeena Yearwood
A team of psychiatrists from Northwell Health, a teaching hospital on Staten Island, is currently in Guyana to provide mental health support to family members and parents of children who have been affected by the fire that engulfed the girls’ secondary school dormitory of Mahdia, killing 20 people. children.
The arrival of the teams earlier this week expands the existing relationship between Georgetown Public Hospital and the US hospital. He also joins the mental health team made up of stakeholders from various ministries and government agencies who have been mobilized to provide support.
During an interview with the News Room on Wednesday, Dr. Mayer Bellehsen, one of four overseas doctors, said it was evident a team should come to Guyana to conduct first-hand assessments of survivors and the community at large, given the gravity of the situation the situation.
Our team has come down to provide additional support as well as understand what is happening on the ground and work together with administration and government to think about a long-term response and drive policy and resource development to be able to provide support over time, Dr. Bellehsen said.
The tragedy occurred on May 21 at around 11pm and 20 children – 19 girls and a five-year-old boy – died in the fire. The school hosts girls from Mahdia, Campbelltown, Micobie, El Paso and many other villages in North Pakaraimas in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni).
These are all close-knit villages and according to President Dr Irfaan Ali, the top priority for the government is to provide the support they need right now. He said no effort will be spared during this difficult journey.
Dr. Bellehsen, a clinical psychologist, explained that individuals must have the necessary resources to cope with the consequences of these types of stressors, therefore, the general response to traumatic events is to identify needs, find any practical support to meet these needs and help people feel a sense of security.
They [three other doctors] they are on the ground in Mahdia, supporting the wider community gatherings, where information is shared, typical ways of responding, reactions and coping are offered, and also the avenues available for more individualized support.
Dr Bellehsen is due to arrive in Mahdia on Thursday. He said the tragedy deeply saddened many and noted that Northwell has extended his support for Guyana.
Already, a critically ill girl, 13, who was receiving treatment at the City Hospital has been medically evacuated to Northwell Health, Burns Center for much needed treatment.
Meanwhile, Dr Triston Griffith, a psychiatrist attached to the GPHC psychiatry unit, said the response to the fire from all sectors was immediate. Notably, he said the health care group may be the longest-lived group.
We’ve had teams review and help manage inpatients, we’ve also sent teams to hotels where families are staying, and we’ve had sessions with families.
The initial response is to provide psychological first aid to people because everyone responds differently to trauma and stress, Dr. Griffith said.
He explained that the team is still providing psychological first aid and identifying people who may exhibit more exaggerated responses while making specific interventions and coping strategies.
Staff from the Mental Health Unit of the Department of Health, the Psychiatry and Psychology Unit of Georgetown Hospitals and the Child Care and Protection Agency are also part of the team.
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