Health Department has critical role in large-scale community incidents
After the wail of sirens dies, fires are put out, the injured are rescued and transported, and barricades are taken down, a gradual transition from direct response to recovery begins. A behind-the-scenes recovery starts after the immediate threat to life has subsided and may continue for years.
The City’s Health Department is an integral leader in recovery for many community incidents. The tragic gas explosion at the Upper School building at Minnehaha Academy is an example of how a comprehensive team of professionals from the Health Department’s Emergency Preparedness Team and other Health Department staff responded to help students and staff at the school after the immediate threat of the explosion had subsided.
At the time of the explosion, 35 Minnehaha Academy staff members were on-site, and 34 students were practicing on the soccer field or inside at a sports clinic. Two people inside the building died, and nine more sustained serious injuries. As there had been no specific call to ask for the City’s assistance – often people don’t realize help is available – the City reached out to Minnehaha Academy to offer its resources. Minneapolis staff found a significant need for psychological first aid; behavioral health assessments and referrals; and medical screening, education and follow-up for blast-related traumatic brain injury and psychological trauma. The Health Department team quickly assembled, organized and offered resources to support the school’s staff and students.
Within 48 hours, Health Commissioner Gretchen Musicant spoke to the assembled staff and students who had been on school grounds, as did representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board (to discuss the process for their investigation) and Hennepin County Medical Center (to discuss the impact of blast injuries and the need for screening). The City offered resources for behavioral health services starting at that meeting, with assistance from the Minnesota Department of Health’s Behavioral Health strike team.
The Minneapolis Health Department is coordinating the overall recovery planning except behavioral health operations, which Hennepin County is leading. The Minnesota Department of Health is planning to monitor the physical and mental health effects of the blast on the people who were on-site. Together, the three entities have made a plan for providing the school with appropriate, trauma-informed, behavioral health support. Minneapolis Emergency Preparedness staff will remain in contact with Minnehaha Academy staff to assist with long-term recovery.
Published Sep 5, 2017