Coronavirus pandemic brings unprecedented trauma to New York EMS

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NEW YORK, NY – Even for New York’s most experienced emergency responders, the coronavirus crisis has brought a level of trauma unlike anything they have seen before.

For months, EMS and FDNY workers took on long shifts and new quarters as the number of daily calls doubled and a quarter of their own workforce became infected with the virus.

Severe cases of COVID-19 and unrelated medical emergencies, where people were afraid to call 911 before it was too late, meant a daily count with an unprecedented number of deaths. Daily deaths in New York City rose from 60 to 80 to well over 300 during the height of the pandemic.

“It was like a bomb had gone off,” said Lt. Anthony Almojera, who works at Sunset Park. “I saw more cardiac arrests in that two month period than in my entire 10 year career. ”

This unprecedented crisis has resulted in an equally unprecedented level of post-traumatic stress disorder for a workforce already plagued with mental health challenges, Almojera said.

And, not to say, it’s not over yet.

“You wake up, it’s COVID. You fall asleep, it’s COVID, ”Almojera says. “Usually it is 30 days after an event to be diagnosed [post-traumatic stress disorder] – there are not yet 30 days after the event. ”

That’s why Almojera, the vice president of the EMS union, is urging his fellow emergency workers to take advantage of a new program providing free trauma therapy to first responders in New York City.

The program – a partnership with EMS FDNY Help Fund and the NYC Trauma Recovery Network – will provide a new option for workers who historically do not seek help due to lack of mental health resources and a culture of stigma. , did he declare.

EMS workers have the highest rate of suicide per capita and the highest rate of drug addiction, Almojera said, adding that three workers committed suicide during the coronavirus crisis.

“We are a department that is riding the lighting strike to begin with,” he said.

« [With the program] they can feel free to seek help and not have to worry about stigma or work-related issues. ”

The program offers six to ten confidential, free NRT counseling sessions with licensed psychotherapists trained in what is known as EMDR, a treatment for PTSD. Additional mental health services will also be covered by the Fund, which provides general financial assistance to members of FDNY-EMS.

Almojera said the program has already helped members who started the sessions, including himself.

“I am someone who has been in therapy for 17 years, but this is my first EMDR [experience] “, he said. I can say that the effects are already being felt. ”

Almojera said the program gave her tools to come out of times of depression faster, be less irritable and increase her sleep by four to six hours a night.

He has a piece of advice for his colleagues who are reluctant to try: “You have to do it”.

“The thing about being an EMS paramedic is that you feel like you have to have an unlimited reservoir of empathy,” Almojera said.

“What the pandemic has shown me is that there is a limit – You may well dry up. And the person you start to show the least empathy for is yourself. This is where the problems start. ”

FDNY-EMS members who wish to take advantage of the advisory services can register here. The EMS FDNY Aid Fund also provides assistance to members whose spouses have lost their jobs, who need help with medical bills or other financial assistance. AT donate click here.

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