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Counseling is essential following a disaster
The availability of group and individual counseling for hospital staff following two shootings within eight months of each other in Blacksburg, VA, was invaluable, says Mike Hill, RN, the ED director at Montgomery Regional Hospital, which treated 17 victims of the recent shootings at Virginia Tech University.
"When I started 20 years ago, we did not have sessions like this. You were just expected to go on your way," he recalls. "Responders have killed themselves after events like these."
Each event brought with it its own type of stress, notes Hill. In the first incident, a shooting of a hospital security guard and a deputy sheriff in August 2006, the incident involved someone who had grown up in the community.
"This event occurred with someone the whole ED staff knew and saw shot down," notes David Linkous, RN, MEd, the hospital's emergency planner. Hill says, "The [security guard] was a local guy who grew up in the system and had checked on the nurses just before the incident."
This type of experience, Hill continues, can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. "In fact, some people are still going to counseling for the first event," he notes.
The more recent event involved "seven hours of stressful, high-tempo work, but all of the patients lived," notes Hill. "Anyone in medicine's goal is to do all you can to save a life. Still, once you go home and think about 33 kids not making it, that's what tugs at your heart."
The hospital provided group sessions, which were facilitated by staff members of the employee assistance program, and individual sessions. "There were a number of counselors on the premises for more than week after [the most recent incident]," says Linkous. Staff who thought they needed help were encouraged to ask, he says. "The day of the event, counseling was offered to families and friends of staff members as well," Linkous says. In addition, he says, directors were on the lookout for people who appeared to need counseling, but "nobody was forced to take counseling."
The group discussions are valuable, says Linkous, "Because they enable you to see that others feel the same way you do." In fact, says Hill, he and Linkous attended a group debriefing for one of the local rescue squads the night after the most recent incident. "It was good to hear what they had to say, and what they were feeling," he says.