The Community Care Team (CCT) is the volunteer counseling and behavioral health unit of Vashon Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), which is charged with responding to increased medical and mental health needs during or after a disaster or emergency. The CCT, under the MRC and VashonBePrepared, the island’s disaster preparedness coalition, was initiated to create additional capacity for crisis intake of mental health needs, assessments and triage, resource information, individual and family support, and disaster-related emotional assistance during a Federal- and State-declared emergency, in coordination with existing agency providers and VashonBePrepared.
The CCT, initially activated for disaster response, was reactivated for pandemic response in March 2020. MRC/VashonBePrepared hosted a Zoom videoconference to recruit mental health practitioners and spiritual care providers from the community. The team grew from 2 to 28 members through March and April 2020.
A Spiritual Health arm of CCT, the Spiritual Resources Group, was added to meet the spiritual needs in the community, with leaders from multiple faith traditions and spiritual practices. The term “spiritual” is intended in as broad a sense as possible. It is not limited to and does not assume belief or religion.
We know that there will be an increased demand for mental health services as time goes on. State and national health organizations have predicted that the need will be greatest from October through December 2020, in terms of suicidality, depression, anxiety, and abuse. We are preparing for that eventuality. The CCT Help Line mental health practitioners are trained to assess mental health needs, triage, and refer to other agencies if needed. In addition to being state licensed professionals, our providers are given legal protection from malpractice lawsuits because we enroll them as Washington State Registered Emergency Workers (REW) and during this pandemic they have immunity through a provision in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Liability Protection from States, CARES Act Coverage
Most states provide liability protection in the form of immunity for volunteer healthcare workers responding to a declared emergency. Moreover, section 4216 of The CARES Act (SEC 4216), passed in response to the COVID-19 emergency, provides that volunteer healthcare professionals engaged in the emergency response to COVID-19 “shall not be liable under Federal or State Law for any harm caused by an act or omission of the professional in the provision of health care services during the public health emergency declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.”
Virtual Help Line
In response to the pandemic, CCT created and fostered the idea of a help line for community members who need mental health crisis intervention or spiritual support.
CCT is using an application called Grasshopper that supports the virtual call system we need. Providers are trained to use Grasshopper on both the computer and phone app. We have our own Grasshopper phone number through which providers receive and return calls. Providers do not use their personal phone numbers.
The CCT Help Line has two extensions: one for mental health callers and one for spiritual support.
The mental health extension offers confidential no-cost crisis intervention with licensed and trained Mental Health Practitioners for up to 3 sessions.
The spiritual health extension offers confidential spiritual support from experienced Spiritual Care Providers for up to 3 sessions. The Spiritual Resources Group sought community members with experience and recognized for cultivating their own spirituality and for gifts in compassionate listening. These volunteers are not to be considered as experts or authorities. Care providers will respect and be guided by the perspectives, values, goals and experiences of the person seeking support. There will be no proselytizing or promoting of particular religious, spiritual, philosophical, moral, lifestyle, or other frameworks.
Both groups of CCT Help Line providers were trained in a Psychological First Aid and Resiliency Building course, created for crisis intervention counseling. We have two retired psychologists and one retired psychiatrist who offer consultation, debriefing, and support to the Help Line providers. Procedural guidelines for use during calls were developed for the Mental Health Practitioners and Spiritual Care Providers.
We developed a data collection survey to track the number, dates and times of calls received; areas of stress/concern expressed by Vashon residents; and referrals to mental health or social services made. Practitioners are not to use this form for clinical notes or to provide personally identifiable information.
A brief Essential Workers survey was created to collect information from island responders on compassion fatigue, secondary trauma, and burnout.
We are setting up Zoom education and support groups (not therapy groups) for community members who would like to be part of a group while dealing with the uncertainty that comes with prolonged isolation, social distancing or positive test results:
- Resiliency building/coping groups
- Drop in parenting groups
- Essential workers support groups
Group facilitators are experienced retired mental health practitioners and/or school counselors. We are collaborating with the island schools to get referrals for youth groups during the summer months.
To promote community awareness, the team developed a postcard which was mailed to all community members, listing the CCT Help Line number and other Vashon Island resources. One of the main objectives was to reach those not comfortable using the internet.
Articles about the CCT were published in the local newspaper, information about the CCT was shared on the local radio station and Vashon Town Hall. Additional postcards were delivered to strategic places on the island, such as the health clinic, the COVID testing site, the pharmacy, and the mental health counseling clinic.
The postcard distribution was effective, as the Help Line started receiving many more calls after cards were mailed and distributed.
CCT collaborates with existing island resources such as: mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence organizations; the faith/spiritual community; the school district; and social services to assess community needs and gaps in social emotional support for community members. As social services channels become saturated, the need to provide this intermediary support is critical. Collaboration avoids
duplicating services, increases surge capacity, and supplements local resources.
CCT Webpages: https://vashonbeprepared.org/en-us/MentalHealth
Working with VashonBePrepared, CCT created a website that includes mental health resources, coping strategies, and spiritual health resources in the form of poems, prayers, and spiritual practices. There are also links to relevant training and webinars.
Data Collection Survey:
Essential Workers Survey:
Health and compassion for the mind and spirit
CCT postcard (Click to enlarge)