Trauma response team is prepared to serve

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Hancock Health is training 24 people to create a Hancock County Critical Incident Stress Management Team, which will respond and support those involved in traumatic events.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

HANCOCK COUNTY — Processing a traumatic event can be….well, a process.

That’s why Hancock Health is developing a Critical Incident Stress Management Team to assist those who have endured any type of traumatic event in the county.

Last week, 24 people attended a three-day training session at the New Palestine Wellness Center to join the team that will respond whenever a critical event takes place in the county.

There’s a wide range of events that could trigger the need for the stress management team, said Amanda Everidge, director of Healty365, the division of Hancock Health that’s leading the response effort.

Mass casualty accidents, a SWAT standoff, the death of an infant or the suicide of a staff member could all apply, she said.

“Any event that is traumatic can take an emotional toll on individuals who are present at the event,” said Everidge. Trained responders can make a world of difference in helping those affected be able to process the event in a healthy way, she said, which can help alleviate things like post-traumatic stress down the road.

The Critical Incident Stress Management Team members are trained to know how to help traumatized individuals process and cope with what they’ve seen and experienced.

Having personally experienced a traumatic event, Cumberland police chief Suzanne C. Woodland was thankful for the chance to take part in the team training last week.

“I wanted to give back and help others who may experience something like this,” she said.

“Meeting the individuals who were there to be part of this team was definitely a highlight, as there are so many professionals there…who recognize the importance of handling (traumatic) situations in a way where people can continue on with their lives in a healthy way,” said the police chief.

“People still truly care and want to help people. Each person in that classroom demonstrated that by their attendance and willingness to learn.”

Everidge said those who attended last week’s training included first responders, nonprofit executives and school personnel, among others.

Kim Kile, director of school counseling at Greenfield-Central High School, was excited to participate.

“Although I’m a trained counselor, the techniques we learned through this training are very specific to a critical event and how we will work with the first responders and victims,” she said. “It provided me with an opportunity to learn a new set of counseling skills that I can incorporate into both my work at school and with this team.”

Kile said the training taught participants how to lessen the stress for those involved in traumatic events — including victims, bystanders, and first responders — while instilling compassion and hope.

“We could not have asked for a better group of peers and mental health providers to come together last week for this training,” she said. “Although I hope we never have a critical event in which we need to pull our entire team together, if we do, we will be ready to support those who need it most.”

Everidge said the trauma response team doesn’t show up at the scene of a traumatic event, but rather shows up to debrief all those involved within 72 hours of the event.

The debriefing is designed to include every single person impacted by a traumatic event, which she said can include more people than one might think.

“If something traumatic happened in the emergency room, it’s not just the doctor and the nurses effected but maybe the nurses at the nurses station, the EMTs, the social service worker called to the floor, the food service person who delivered the food, the housekeeping staff who cleaned up the room,” said Everidge. “All those individuals who were engaged within that incident are invited to be present at the debriefing.”

At the debriefing, team members walk through a series of steps with those who were impacted to help them process what took place. “There are a number of steps and phases to process, so it’s a very structured process,” Everidge said.

“We help them to talk about their emotions and physical reactions to the event that they’ve experienced, then we go into a teaching phase where we really talk about what those feelings mean and how to create a plan on how to move forward in a healthy way.”

The county’s stress management response team is an offshoot of the response team Hancock Health formed last year to help staff members cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID made our healthcare workers realize how they’ve been pushed to the limits, and created the need to learn how to manage all the stress,’”said Everidge.

“We felt like having a team ready to help them cope in a healthier way would help us support our staff and help us to retain employees. Now the same approach can be applied across the whole county,” she said.

While seven people were initially trained for the county-wide response team, Everidge said it quickly became clear that the team needed to grow to sufficiently serve the community, especially if a county-wide traumatic event were to occur.

“If it does, I will help in any way I can, even if it’s just to show up to give you a hug and a smile and tell you that it’s going to be okay,” said team member Andrea Mallory, executive director of the Hope House & Thrift Store in Greenfield.

Fellow team member Crystal Wiley, executive director of Zoey’s Place Child Advocacy Center in Greenfield, said the communication and intervention techniques she learned last week will go a long way in helping her and fellow team members assist those in crisis.

“Having an organized, trained team to serve the entire community during a critical incident streamlines services for people,” said Wiley. “The people involved are getting a trained team to (help them) process individually or as a group, and an opportunity to talk about the incident with resources and follow up.”

As a survivor of a traumatic event, Woodland said a trained county-wide response team is something that has been long overdue for the community.

“Long gone are the days where something happens and most people can shrug it off and go on about their lives,” she said. “Crisis intervention is something that…can reduce potential issues that can happen if (trauma) goes unaddressed later in life.”