Help for Haiti +

The Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) at New Paltz is working with the American Red Cross and New York State Office of Mental Health on preparations to provide mental health services to potentially large groups of Haitian evacuees who are expected to be repatriated through Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh.

Karla Vermeulen, coordinator of the Institute, said that this effort has involved getting a number of New Paltz faculty and appropriately trained undergraduate and graduate students credentialed as members of the Red Cross Disaster Services Human Resource System, and organizing contact lists and schedules of availability. The team will include Gweneth Lloyd, head of the Counseling Center on campus, who speaks fluent Creole.

“If and when repatriation flights are routed to Stewart, we’ll most likely receive a few hours warning at most,” said Vermeulen, “so we’re working to ensure that we will be able to provide mental health assistance as needed.”

In addition to standing by for support, Vermeulen said that the Institute created a tip sheet on Haitian culture to equip staffers and volunteers to deal with survivors in culturally appropriate ways. This has been distributed throughout the state to relevant managers at the Red Cross, and to all County Emergency Managers for the New York State Emergency Management Organization.

Vermeulen added that the state Office of Mental Health also sent the tip sheet out to their facilities in New York City in preparation for a major Disaster Assistance Service Center that will be opening this week, and it went out nation-wide via an Office of Mental Health information consortium.

The Institute has also posted links to relief organizations where people can donate funds on their Web site ( and are posting updates on activities and ways to help on the Institute’s Facebook page (follow the link on our Web site, or go to Facebook and search for IDMH).

Also, in order to increase the number of trained volunteers in the New Paltz community who can respond to this and other disasters, Vermeulen and other Institute staff are working with the Ulster County Chapter of the Red Cross to organize a full-day intensive training on Saturday, Feb. 20, on the New Paltz campus. At the training, attendees will be able to take the various required courses to sign on as a volunteer.

James Halpern, director of the Institute, said, “Disasters happen anywhere, all the time – we want to train people both locally and nationally so they can help – rather than just watching it on TV.”