County accesses $620,000 in support of victims stressed by floodingEmergency response is a fairly straightforward process when it comes to dealing with natural disasters such as last June’s devastating flooding in Carlton County. But what comes next is not.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Emergency response is a fairly straightforward process when it comes to dealing with natural disasters such as last June’s devastating flooding in Carlton County. But what comes next is not.
Joanne Erspamer, public health educator for Carlton County Public Health and Human Services, told members of the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday that post-flood response is not as well understood, particularly from the behavioral health aspect.
“Well over 50 percent of the county’s residents who were affected by the flooding are dealing with significant levels of stress,” said Erspamer.
She said that fact was established during “conversational triage” sessions at the Disaster Recovery Centers, utilizing the “PsySTART” program, where flood survivors chatted with trained support professionals. Since that time, the situation has been further substantiated by local disaster case managers, who have found that the lion’s share of flood survivors are still facing multiple stressors such as navigating the recovery process, dealing with multiple funding streams and facing the frustrations of soliciting bids for reconstruction.
Erspamer said it is an established fact that flooding has the greatest emotional impact on survivors of any natural disaster, followed by hurricanes.
Armed with the data from the PsySTART interviews and case managers from Lutheran Social Services, last August Carlton County applied for a grant from the Department of Homeland Security Emergency Management (HSEM) to help flood survivors in need of behavioral health support. A grant in the amount of $120,000 was awarded to the county in February.
Erspamer said the funds will go toward staging community mental health forums, assisting uninsured or underinsured families access mental health services and sponsoring Camp Noah, a day camp for kids whose families were affected by the flood to help them cope with the stress involved. The grant funding will also provide a “tele-mental health line” for folks who want to access help without actually going to the office of a mental health professional. Erspamer explained that the line works via technology similar to Skype or iTV, allowing a person to hold a consultation from a remote location equipped with the established technology.
The grant will also help fund a resource fair for flood survivors with ongoing needs during this year’s session of Operation Community Connect, slated for Sept. 24 from 12:30-4:30 p.m. at the Cloquet Armory.
“This grant was unprecedented in the support of behavioral health recovery,” said Erspamer. “In the past, $20,000 was the standard for this type of thing.”
Based on the county’s experience in addressing the behavioral health issues of flood survivors, Erspamer gave a presentation at the Governor’s Conference this spring.
“Carlton County has become a leader in the area,” said Erspamer.
Based on that information, and a stated need from the adjacent counties in northeastern Minnesota, the HSEM allocated an additional $500,000 to the counties of Carlton, St. Louis, Pine and Aitkin to address the ongoing behavioral health needs of the flood survivors.
With the additional funding, the counties will be able to hire a full-time mental health professional as well as part-time office support, provide additional tele-mental health counseling sites, provide more money for the uninsured and underinsured to access mental health support services, hold additional community health forums and hold three sessions of Camp Noah.
“This is very positive for this region,” said Erspamer. “The needs are high, and it’s great that the state has acknowledged those needs.”
Public Health and Human Services Manager Dave Lee said next week the Carlton County Board will be asked to formally accept the latest grant so the counties can move forward with their plans.
“This is basically uncharted territory,” said Lee. “The state is saying that we’re doing some things differently here in Carlton County, and they like the things we’re doing.”
Tuesday’s meeting of the Committee of the Whole also featured a presentation on how Carlton County fared in the latest round of public health rankings. Julie Myhre, director of the Carlton, Cook, and St. Louis County Community Health Board, explained that public health rankings have been released since 2010.
“They provide a snapshot of the health status of counties across the United States,” she said, adding that Minnesota is traditionally one of the healthiest states in the country, currently ranking sixth.
Myhre went on to say that the health rankings provide an opportunity to address a broader scope of things that contribute to chronic health problems and premature death.
“Access to health care is only a part of it,” she said. “Behavioral patterns are the highest contributor.”
Myhre said the health rankings are based on 25 different factors as they impact health factors and health outcomes. In the most recent rankings, she reported that Carlton County improved from 47th to 36th (out of 87 counties). In the area of health outcomes, however, the county came in at 81st, which Myhre said “is not where we want to be.”
She went on to explain that health outcomes are based on the percent of adults reporting poor or fair health, the average number of poor physical health days reported in the past month, the average number of poor mental health days reported in the past month, the percent of live births with low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds), and the years of potential life lost before age 75. Myhre explained that the average life expectancy of the local population is 75 years, and any health factor that results in death prior to that time is considered “potential life lost.” She said Carlton County ranks particularly low in this regard, and the proportion of it that can be attributed to suicide is larger than for nearly all other counties in the state, particularly among its young people.
Public Health Supervisor Terri Allen told members of the Committee of the Whole that Carlton County has identified obesity, mental health (including suicide prevention) and drug abuse as its top three priorities in addressing the health rankings. To that end, Myhre said the problems are being addressed across county lines more than ever before.
“We all need to work together to impact health,” she concluded, “— business people, educators, policy makers. We need to help people to make better decisions and healthier choices.”