Resilience-building-is-transferable-in-communities-after-a-disaster

Resilience-building is transferable in communities after a disaster

Many recent high profile natural disasters have increased the urgency of need for successful examples of how to address behavioral health concerns in recovering communities.

That's exactly what a diverse team of community health researchers recently examined in Case Study of Resilient Baton Rouge: Applying Depression Collaborative Care and Community Planning to Disaster Recovery. The article, e-published in the June issue of International Journal of Environmental and Public Health illustrates how in the context of a disaster, community involved planning can be combined with resiliency-oriented, mental health interventions that fit local culture.

The above team included Tulane Prevention Research Center (PRC) Community Engagement Program Manager and chair of the Louisiana Community Health Outreach Network Catherine Haywood and Tulane PRC faculty collaborator Ashley Wennerstrom, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Tulane. Building on a history of collaboration across Southern Louisiana and Los Angeles, the team developed Resilient Baton Rouge (RBR) to support recovery in Baton Rouge after the Great Flood of 2016. According to RBR, this organization was "designed to support recovery, promote psychological well-being, and reduce the burden of the mental health consequences by building local capacity to implement an expanded model of depression collaborative care for adults, coupled with identifying and responding to local priorities and assets for recovery." RBR developed a toolkit of manuals, forms and links to websites to support a wide range of community service organization staff, faith-based leaders, community health workers (CHWs), volunteers and others in non-clinical roles to conduct outreach, offer education and make referrals for behavioral health services.

"The goal here was to replicate some of the lessons our team has learned across New Orleans and Los Angeles over the last decade plus for building mental health services delivery capacity in under resourced communities," said Wennerstrom. In New Orleans, local healthcare infrastructure was decimated by catastrophic flooding caused by major levee failures following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Community and academic leaders enhanced local capacity to deliver depression care services in New Orleans by organizing a community-partnered, participatory program called the REACH NOLA Mental Health Infrastructure and Training (MHIT) project. Mental health outreach through community health workers and other non-clinically trained community members such as neighborhood association staff was an important component of the project. As Dr. Wennerstrom puts it, "building trust is essential. That's why we wanted to prepare community members— trusted people that know folks and already understand outreach— with skills to address stigma around mental health and improve access to services."

Over the duration of the New Orleans project, CHWs and case manager trainees gradually assumed greater responsibility for conducting different parts of the training, so that by the end, they were recognized as experts. This group continued collaboration and eventually formed the broader community health worker group Louisiana Community Health Outreach Network, or LACHON, of which both Haywood and Wennerstrom have served as Chair. LACHON continues to serve as a venue for community health workers to receive professional support to enhance their skills and to advocate for the profession to be recognized as integral to healthcare, public health, and social services systems.

"Training sessions were an opportunity to foster collaboration within and between agencies, which represents an important step in improving coordination between mental health care service providers," said Wennerstrom. This work was made possible by community health leaders like Haywood taking time to get to know the community and meeting them where they are, literally and figuratively. This wisdom and experience were backbones for the case study featured in the journal article.

By Emily Szklarski, Graduate Communications Research Assistant
June 2018

Topics:   community health , health communication , training

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