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Discuss best practices in fields of health, psychology and security with national experts
PISCATAWAY – Christie Administration officials today participated in a Disaster Behavioral Health conference along with nationally-renowned disaster recovery experts to discuss best practices in mental health research and services for disaster survivors and responders.  The well-attended event was the final program of the spring 2013 conference series hosted by the University Center for Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response (UCDPER) - a collaborative initiative of Rutgers University, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.Commissioners from the state Departments of Health (DOH) and Human Services (DHS) and the state Director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (OHSP) were invited to speak at the forum by former DOH Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D., who now serves as the UCDPER Director.

“Our Center recognizes the profound mental health consequences of disasters and the importance of effective prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.” said Dr. Lacy. “We have organized this conference to promote dissemination of best practices from nationally-renowned experts to those who care for the psychological aspects of survivors of disasters.”

“The department already is seeing an economic and emotional effect from Superstorm Sandy on individuals and families who remain displaced from their homes,” said DHS Commissioner Jennifer Velez. “We continue to increase the presence of Disaster Case Managers, Hope and Healing crisis counselors and clinical behavioral health staff to help families in the areas most devastated by the storm.”

DHS received federal grants of $8.7 million and $11.5 million, respectively for Disaster Case Management services to residents in need of post-Sandy social service assistance and to fund  ongoing efforts by its Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ Disaster and Terrorism Branch, and its partners, to help Sandy survivors cope with the emotional challenges associated with loss or displacement.

“The mental health effects of a disaster, terrorist attack, or other public health emergency can be long-lasting, and this can impact an individual’s overall health and wellbeing,” said DOH Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd. “Following Superstorm Sandy, I have been working with health providers throughout the state to increase awareness of signs of stress in patients and refer those who are having difficulty during this time of recovery to mental health resources. Today’s conference will further enhance New Jersey’s ability to identify those struggling and assist them in recovery.”

"Disaster mental health is a process that continues long after the immediate impacts of an emergency.  Therefore, ensuring that emergency responders and citizens are not forgotten after the emergency has concluded must be a top priority," said Edward Dickson, OHSP Director.  "Today’s gathering, and the work done by the UCDPER in collaboration with a host of public and private sector partners, law enforcement, emergency management agencies and public health enhanced the care for those impacted by a disaster in ways that are not manifested in broken bones or in property damage, but have a significant impact nonetheless."

Renowned disaster experts from the fields of psychology, social work, mental health services, health care, public health and homeland security were presenters at the conference and took part in a group panel discussion that addressed questions from audience members. They included:

·       Brian W. Flynn, Ed.D., Adjunct Professor and Associate Director, Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Department of Psychiatry, F. Edward Herbert School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

·       Fran H. Norris, Ph.D., Director, National Center for Disaster Mental Health Research; Research Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth; Research Associate, Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

·       Patricia Watson, Ph.D., Senior Education Specialist, National Center for PTSD; Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Medical School

·       Jessica L. Hamblen, Ph.D., Deputy Director for Education, National Center for PTSD; Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Medical School

·       Charles R. Figley, Ph.D., Paul Henry Kurzweg Distinguished Chair in Disaster Mental Health and Professor, Graduate School of Social Work, Tulane University

UCDPER has organized and hosted a series of conferences funded by the federal Department of Homeland Security through the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. Programs in the conference series included:  “9/11 – 10 Years Later: A National Conference on Preparedness and Response,” “Risk and Crisis Communication: Communicating Before, During, and After Disasters and Emergencies,” “The New Jersey Emergency Health Powers Act – Eight Years Later,” “Emergency Responders – Coverage for Liability and Injury,” “Management of Explosive Incidents: Coordinating Health Care, Emergency Management and Law Enforcement,” “Drug Diversion and Counterfeiting: The Homeland Security Perspective,” “Cyber Terrorism and Healthcare”, and “Disaster Behavioral Health.” UCDPER educational programs have addressed the mission areas of prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery for major issues of national preparedness.

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