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Shortly after terrorists destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the supportive care staff at St. Vincents Hospital in New York City started working in what later became St. Vincents Family Crisis Center.
Later that day, because of the throngs of people who were came by seeking information about their loved ones, the Family Crisis Center moved to a school about a block away.
Until Sept. 13, the center served as the only crisis center in the area because the city’s office of emergency management was in one of the buildings that was destroyed.
"My staff spent most of Tuesday afternoon and evening and the next several days meeting face to face with families of the missing or answering phone calls from people who were looking for information," says Eileen Hanley, RN, MBA, manager of the supportive care program.
For the first few days, the staff provided concrete information rather than formal counseling.
"It was helpful to have professional staff who could identify whether the people looking for information on their loved ones were having an appropriate response or if they needed a more intensive assessment or to call someone because they were alone," Hanley says.
The Family Crisis Center was a collaborative effort of the hospital’s spiritual care, social work, psychiatry, and supportive care departments. In the first two weeks, more than 6,000 people were seen at the Crisis Center.
By the middle of the week of Sept. 17, as hopes dimmed for finding any more injured, the flow to the Crisis Center lessened, and it was moved back to St. Vincents Hospital.
The supportive care department is continuing to provide bereavement and grief counselors in the emergency room in case rescue workers and people from the community come in for support. After the first two weeks, the ER counseling services were cut back from around-the- clock to 8 a.m. to midnight.
"People may be coming in for some type of physical complaint, but they benefit from having someone offering some support and a kind ear and allowing them to talk about what’s going on," she says.