Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Haines receives massive grant to expand behavioral health services post-disaster


December 17, 2020

Local agencies and partners at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau have two weeks to spend an unprecedented $1.4 million the state is channeling into Haines to assist with stabilization and behavioral health services in the wake of the Dec. 2 landslide.

“Could you use $1.4 million?” was the text Bartlett chief behavioral health officer Bradley Grigg received from an official at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services after he notified the department that the hospital planned to send behavioral health staff to support the recovery effort in Haines.

“After I got through the shock of ‘Are you kidding me?’ I (readily accepted),” Grigg said.

He said the money, which comes from the CARES Act, will be used to expand behavioral health services in the community and support displaced residents with housing assistance. He stressed that such funding for this type of activity is very unusual.

“It is an absolute anomaly for this type of funding to be given to an agency like ours, almost unheard of,” Grigg said. He said he thinks it speaks to the state’s recognition of the need for behavioral health support during a crisis.

“When you’ve been a part of something very traumatic… our services help people stabilize and get back to a sense of learning how to effectively manage it. You can’t just get over losing a friend or a neighbor, but you can learn how to get through it and process it and be functional and healthy,” Grigg said. He said letting people know that they have someone who will listen to them and letting them feel heard is an important part of reaching this goal.

Because the $1.4 million comes from the CARES Act, it must be spent by the end of the year, just two weeks away.

“We are on a short timeline,” Grigg said. “It requires us to be pretty dang creative.”

He said Bartlett is committed to spending the funds and is meeting this week with stakeholders in the community including the Haines Borough, Haines Borough School District and the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) to come up with a plan.

A portion of the funds will go to support Bartlett staff members who have been in town working with the school and the community since Dec. 6.

“We prepared educators (for reopening the school),” Grigg said. “We talked with them about presenting students with similar language, talking to them in a way that acknowledges loss.” Bartlett staff met with parents prior to reopening and, after school started up, staff were present in classrooms. Grigg said staff are also available, by appointment, for community members who want someone to talk with.

Bartlett is one of several organizations offering behavioral health support in the wake of the natural disaster. The Red Cross had disaster mental health staff in Haines until Dec. 8 and is now performing remote wellness checks over the phone. Lynn Canal Counseling’s staff are also offering services.

Mayor Douglas Olerud has worked to incorporate language related to behavioral health in his messages to the community, encouraging residents to treat each other with compassion.

“You can’t heal somebody’s pain by trying to take it away from them. Being heard helps. It seems too simple, but it makes things better even when they can’t be made right,” he wrote in a statement to the community a week after the landslide.

Behavioral health wasn’t a component of disaster recovery Olerud had considered prior to the Dec. 2 landslide, he said in an interview Monday. “Talking (with SEARHC staff) and realizing the impact this has on individuals in so many different ways, it was eye opening for me,” he said.

Olerud, who famously worked a stress ball to death during an Emergency Operations Center meeting in the days following the landslide, said he has personally found behavioral health services useful in recent weeks.

“Having to stand up in front of homeowners and tell them they can’t go back to their houses, having to tell people that two individuals who are missing are likely deceased, it’s not what anybody wants to have to do. It’s the emotional aspect of seeing and knowing so many friends and community members that were affected and how deeply they were affected that makes it extremely tough,” Olerud said. “It’s been amazing having people to talk to and work through it all with.”

Grigg encourages anyone wondering if they might benefit from seeking behavioral health services to reach out.

“If you’re thinking, I don’t know if I need to talk to someone or not, I would say, ‘Why not give it a shot? What’s it going to harm?’” he said.

Residents can call 766-6701 to set up a meeting with Bartlett Behavioral Health staff through Friday, Dec. 18. The number for the Lynn Canal Counseling at SEARHC is 766-6313.


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