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Crisis counseling offered to Sandy victims

Counselors take notes as Steven Crimando, a disaster

Counselors take notes as Steven Crimando, a disaster behavioral health specialist, speaks during a training session for crisis counselors at the Central Nassau Guidance & Counseling Services center in Bethpage. (Nov. 29, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

A crisis counselor may be knocking on your door soon.

Nassau and Suffolk counties are getting $2.84 million in federal money to hire counselors to help people deal with mental health issues caused by superstorm Sandy.

The grants are part of an $8.2 million program called Project Hope funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Administered by the New York State Office of Mental Health Services in conjunction with mental health agencies in storm-battered counties, the program will hire about 1,000 counselors in New York City, Long Island and the Lower Hudson Valley, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office.

Specially trained and ideally from the affected area, the counselors will go into ravaged communities to offer support to Sandy victims and try to identify those who may be vulnerable to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse.

"For the average person this could facilitate their recovery," said James Dolan, director of the Nassau County Office of Mental Health, Chemical Dependency and Developmental Disabilities Services.

Dolan said 95 percent of people will recover emotionally on their own from a traumatic event such as Sandy, but can use support and reassurance; the other 5 percent need to be referred to mental health services.

Nassau is getting $1.8 million from the fund that will be divided among 12 organizations. Those groups will hire a total of about 200 counselors, Dolan said.

Suffolk has been allocated $1.04 million that will go to six organizations and 105 counselors, according to Art Flescher, Suffolk's director of community health services.

"The funding will enable us to connect residents with the resources they need and provide them with more-extensive assistance," Flescher said.

The $8.2 million is for the first 60 days of Project Hope, which will continue another nine months after that, according to Benjamin Rosen, spokesman for the state Office of Mental Health.

The program is administered at the federal level by FEMA and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. How much second-phase funding Nassau and Suffolk will receive "is still to be determined," Rosen said.

Counselors, who do not have to be mental health professionals, must participate in daylong training sessions.

Amy Dorin, senior vice president for behavioral health at FEGS, said the metropolitan-area health and human services nonprofit will provide 21 to 24 counselors each for the city, Nassau and Suffolk. The organization is looking to hire people from the affected communities who can give what Dorin called "light counseling."

"The goal is to hire people who are indigenous to communities as much as possible," she said. "They will be reaching out, making contact and helping people understand their reactions are normal even though the event is abnormal."

Dr. Nyapati Rao, chairman of psychiatry at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, said the hospital, one of the 12 groups in Nassau that will be sending out counselors, would be hiring department interns. "They are studying to be in the field and they know the communities," he said.

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