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NYC Enlists U.S. Military Experts To Help Front-Line Workers Manage 'Combat Stress'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City is enlisting the U.S. military to help its frontline workers cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

A team of Air Force, Army, and Navy service members will offer their expertise on combat-related trauma.

While patient outcomes are showing signs of improvement, new concerns are emerging on the front line.

This week, Bronx EMT John Mondello and Dr. Lorna Breen, the medical director of the emergency department at New York Presbyterian's Allen Hospital, took their own lives, CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported.

"For weeks now, all our frontline health care workers, who I think of as our soldiers of grace and mercy, have been pushed to the limit. Inside our hospitals, we've had battlefield conditions with triage and fear in the hallways," first lady Chirlane McCray, who heads ThriveNYC, said Wednesday. "But when the emergency field hospitals and morgues close, after the TV crews leave and the clapping stops, our soldiers -- our healers -- go home. And we have to wonder, how do these healers manage their stress after seeing so much death and suffering?

"Their emotional state is a crisis within a crisis and an urgent mental health emergency," she added.

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The military experts will train health care professionals and first responders on how to manage combat stress.

"For some [front-line workers], the only parallel for what they've gone through is what soldiers go through in war," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "There's a phrase 'combat stress' and there's a field of 'combat mental health,' because it's understood that soldiers go through so much."

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McCray said the program will be operational by May and fully in place by June.

"This program, with the trainers and other resources, will be incorporated into our health care facilities," she said. "So that even long after this pandemic is over, our health care workers will have these services."

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

De Blasio also highlighted two initiatives that already exist -- New York City Health + Hospitals' "Help our Healers Heal" program and the FDNY's counseling service.

"Should somebody be traumatized by a tough case you can deploy a Help our Healers Heal peer support champions to meet with them one on one," said Dr. Eric Wei, VP and chief quality officer for Health + Hospitals. "If a whole unit is traumatized you can dispatch two or three to do a group debrief."

Anonymous helplines are also available, as are relaxation rooms. They are being created at hospitals to allow staff a break from the chaos and heartbreak, Cline-Thomas reported.


  • Help our Healers Heal: (646)-815-4150
  • FDNY/EMS counseling: (212)-570-1693
  • ThriveNYC: (888)-NYC-WELL

But how do you convince those on the front lines of the fight to become the patients?

"Part of it is changing the culture from one of the machismo culture to one of we're all human beings. Let's turn that healing power we give so freely to our patients and families towards each other," Wei told CBS2.

The mayor said the federal government has agreed to cover antibody testing for 150,000 front-line workers. He acknowledged the antibody tests have limitations, but said they can still provide some peace of mind.

"For our health care workers and first responders who are dealing with folks who might be infected, it's going to give them additional confidence to know if they've been previously exposed," he said.


Testing will start as early as next week at hospitals, firehouses, police precincts and correction facilities.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state's antibody study has found positive results in 10.5% in NYPD members, 17.1% of FDNY/EMT members and about 18% on average across the general downstate population.

Testing transit workers was also set to start Wednesday.

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"The people drive the buses, the subways, and clean the buses and the subways. Without those buses and subways, the essential workers couldn't get to work," the governor said. "Why didn't we just close down subways and buses? Because you close down the subways and the buses in New York City, don't expect the nurses and the doctors to be able to get to the hospital. Don't expect the delivery worker to be able to deliver food when you ring on your telephone."

Cuomo noted the state is up to 30,000 tests a day, short of his goal but significantly more than most other countries. Per 100,000 people, New York is testing 154 people a day, compared to 95 per day in Italy, 69 in Canada and 61 on average in the United States.

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