Mental heath issues will plague Louisiana citizens as a result of the BP disaster for years to come. The need for monitoring and providing mental health services is a basic requirement for any settle with those responsible for the damage. LSU Health Sciences Center of New Orleans has been provisionally awarded a $14.4 million grant over five years from the $36 million in total funding through the BP Oil Spill Settlement Agreement to fund mental and behavioral health treatment and longer-term supportive services to people and communities affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Dr. Howard Osofsky, Professor and Chairman of Psychiatry, and Dr. Joy Osofsky, Professor and Head of the Division of Pediatric Mental Health at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, are the project leaders of the Mental and Behavioral Health Capacity Project in Louisiana.
The mental health project is one of the four projects that make up the Gulf Region Health Outreach Program developed by BP and counsel representing certain plaintiffs in the Deepwater Horizon litigation in the US District Court in New Orleans. Supervised by the court, the program is funded with $105 million from the BP Deepwater Horizon Medical Settlement. LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans helped to establish a coalition of collaborating partners in the four affected states including the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of South Alabama, the University of West Florida, Tulane University, and the Louisiana Public Health Institute dedicated to work together to implement the goals of the four integrated projects of the Gulf Region Health Outreach Program. The other three projects address primary care, environmental health and literacy, and training of community health workers.
Based on data gathered by the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics through more than 2,000 surveys assessing the psychosocial status of people in the affected areas after the spill, there are significant mental health needs directly attributable to the Deepwater Horizon incident. LSUHSC will work together with its partners to provide the immediate and critical mental and behavioral health services that are needed while the Primary Care Capacity Project is planning and implementing its efforts to increase the mental and behavioral health capacity of FQHCs (federally qualified health centers) and community health clinics. The team will also work with the Primary Care Capacity Project to develop FQHCs and community clinics into high-quality “one-stop shops” for primary care and mental and behavioral health care once the short-term treatment services are completed.
“The target population in Louisiana will include adults, children, and families who were affected by the Deepwater Horizon incident in Lafourche, Cameron, Terrebonne, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Orleans, and Plaquemines parishes,” notes LSUHSC’s Dr. Howard Osofsky. “Services will include assessments, consultation, training, education, counseling, psychotherapeutic services, psychiatric treatment, resilience building, brief interventions, and support groups. Integrated services are very helpful both in reducing mental health problems and in improving response to medical treatment.”
Each state’s program team, along with community stakeholders, will tailor state plans to meet their specific community needs.
“Mental and behavioral health services will be made available to children and families in locations where needs are the most immediate and pressing such as in school settings,” said LSUHSC’s Dr. Joy Osofsky. “Meeting the needs of children who have been traumatized not only improves children’s ability to achieve their potential but reduces the likelihood of future medical problems.”
The first funding installment is expected within 30 days, and project leaders have been meeting and planning to hit the ground running.
“One of the goals of the project is that these connections among the Gulf states and within individual communities will remain in place and serve as a foundation for capacity building, identifying and treating mental and behavioral health needs for the future, and serve as a model for future disaster response as well,” concludes Dr. Howard Osofsky.