Gulf oil spill: BP deal to help with lingering mental health issues

NEW ORLEANS — A $14.4 million share of the BP oil spill settlement will bring mental health counselors to coastal areas of four states affected by the 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The LSU Health Sciences Center, the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of South Alabama, the University of West Florida, Tulane University and the Louisiana Public Health Institute will join for the five-year program. They'll train and send mental health experts to communities to work with doctors, at local clinics and at other sites.

It's one of four projects included in the estimated $7.8 billion settlement reached in May by London-based oil giant BP PLC and a committee of plaintiffs. The settlement has received preliminary approval of a federal judge.

Dr. Harold Osofsky, chairman of psychiatry at the LSU Health Sciences Center, says the program consolidates expertise in the affected states and is designed to deal with mental health issues lingering from the nation's worst offshore oil disaster.

"Don't just come in with surveys and hightail it out," Rick Costa, a psychologist at LSUHSC and a member of its trauma team, told about 160 professionals attending a two-day conference in New Orleans, where the plan was discussed as part of a session on mental health and disasters.

The oil spill, which began in April 2010 and dumped an estimated 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast, is the most recent disaster to hit the region. More typical are hurricanes that roar out of the tropics, wrecking communities and their economies.

Working in the New Orleans suburb of St. Bernard Parish after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Costa said, counselors knew many people were wary of going to a mental health clinic. "We came to them," he said, working in schools and other local gathering places.

And, rather than assuming they had the answers, the counselors created trusting relationships that allowed them to provide the services residents eventually told them they needed most.

St. Bernard, like much of neighboring New Orleans, was devastated by the storm surge of Katrina.

With the communities recovery slow though stead, the counselors stayed for the long term. "We became part of the community. We weren't these two-headed scary monsters," he said.

Under the developing plan for the oil spill states, some services would be offered in a similar manner, getting to the community through schools and other community centers.

The teams also will work in federally qualified health clinics and, where there are no such clinics, with other local doctors and their staffs to create "one-stop shops" for physical and mental health. The university combine is especially concerned about residents who are uninsured or live in areas where mental health services are limited.

The effort will focus on 17 coastal counties and parishes: Mobile and Baldwin in Alabama; Escambia, Santa Rosa, Walton, Okaloosa, and Bay in Florida; Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Lafourche, Terrebonne and Cameron in Louisiana; and Hancock, Harrison and Jackson in Mississippi.

LSUHSC faculty and students already had been at work in coastal Louisiana, whose communities of fishermen were hard hit by the impact of the oil. The settlement will allow that work to be expanded to additional parishes, said Joy Osofsky, head of pediatric mental health and one of the project leaders for Louisiana.

Other projects expected to roll out from the oil spill settlement include training community residents to act as health workers in times of disaster and establishing a network of environmental health experts to help primary care doctors. Another project would make environmental health part of science classes in selected public high schools.

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Comments » 2

Ruger writes:

Some people have mental health issues from the excessive media coverage of this leak? What Real damage was done?

Obama speaks of we, we, we … who "have this thing under control". His environment adviser, Carol Browner, says "the vast majority of the oil appears to have gone". Less than 10% of coastline saw any oil at all. There have been no sightings of dead fish floating in the sea and most fishing will soon be "back to normal". The Gulf is apparently "clean, safe and open for business", and a lovely place to take the kids. It is OK, everyone. Disaster has turned to triumph, so let us all think about the midterm elections.

So whose fault really was the collapse in the local economy? It began with a failed oil well, responsibility resting with BP, but blame still not apportioned. Yet as every terrorist knows, it is not the bomb that does the real damage, it is the publicity multiplier given it by the media and politics.

RayPray writes:

Check the lines applying for this greasy boodle?

Nothing more than a handy welfare boost for Gulf Coast African Americans.

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