How a free Iowa program aims to help
A scroll on the COVID Recovery Iowa Facebook page offers a digital walk into a world much larger than the name suggests.
An article, published the Sunday before Thanksgiving, encourages readers to find gratitude every day. Another image implores them to be “the reason someone smiles today”. A third reminds Iowians facing higher heating bills this winter of programs that stabilize and help keep costs down.
But interspersed are reminders, information, and updates about the pandemic: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations to wear masks if not vaccinated or in an area with high transmission; advice on when to start your vaccination process to be as protected as possible for the holidays; and updates on the latest pandemic activity.
In its own way, the page reflects the subtle truth of the pandemic: While it was triggered by a mutated coronavirus, the bug was never the entirety of the pandemic.
The pandemic has changed all facets of life: schools, economy, holidays. And it had a disproportionate effect on blacks, Latinos and low-income Americans, who were already struggling before March 2020. Nearly two years later, many are still struggling with the COVID-19 disease or its impact.
COVID Recovery Iowa is more than a Facebook page, though program administrator Karen Hyatt emphasizes it. It also offers counseling and support groups tailored to rural people, veterans, and those who are homeless or anxious.
Hyatt, an emergency mental health specialist for the Iowa Department of Social Services, recognized early on that this crisis would be different from the natural disasters that she and her colleagues typically help with. On the one hand, an ongoing health crisis caused by airborne pathogens does not lend itself to in-person awareness.
“Normally in a disaster, we do crisis counseling, we do outreach, we go where the people are, we know where the neighborhoods are, where the people congregate,” Hyatt said. . “But with that, because it was virtual, we had to create a strong presence in a variety of ways so that people would know who we were, so they would trust him and be seen as reliable.”
The Facebook page is a gateway to a range of services
The main Facebook page serves as an entry point for other services, Hyatt said, ranging from light fare such as reading story books for the youngest (including a ride by Ashton Kutcher, a native of the Iowa) to more serious services, including individual counseling and private support groups.
The program, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has so far led to nearly 25,000 one-on-one counseling sessions, involving nearly 31,000 people who have joined stress-adapted support groups. individuals, such as those encountered in rural communities, and 130,000 other support contacts, where a staff member or volunteer touches base with an Iowan for 20 minutes or less, Hyatt said. Its services are free.
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She said program staff see three specific categories of risk: people with substance abuse or mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic; people who have lost support systems to help with past trauma; and people in financial difficulty and at risk of losing their housing. And then there is the long, slow stress of an invisible virus that has killed so many and hospitalized so many others.
“People say they always feel isolated,” Hyatt said. “And they’ve gotten so used to isolating themselves that they’re now comfortable with the withdrawal, but they’re not sure they should be.”
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The program helps government employees cope with stress
Although the program is aimed at the public, it also helps government employees. Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director John Benson has relied for decades on Department of Human Services programs like Hyatt’s to help his staff cope with stress, including some lessons of his own. During the pandemic, COVID Recovery Iowa has proven invaluable, he said.
Historically, state disaster response teams have only been able to arrive on scene after the river has burst its banks or the tornado has finished crossing it. With COVID-19, they are trying to help recovery while facing similar risks to everyone else, he said. Additionally, while there are established playbooks for things like flood recovery, a pandemic is full of unknowns, he said.
About once a month, service staff organize group sessions where everyone can talk about what is stressing them now and how best to cope with it. Indeed, it helps to know that everyone is going through something and that participants are building on each other’s experiences to develop coping strategies that work best for them, Benson said. Having these mechanisms in place allows its staff to remain vigilant when the people of Iowa face the most difficult days of their lives.
“There is nothing wrong, and I say that from personal experience, saying that you have problems, that you are stressed,” Benson said. “A lot of times it’s the simple process of admitting it, and they can get you through that. But doing this out in the open is often very helpful, just pulling a little steam out of the kettle, though. As long as I run this place, we will be engaged with Karen’s team as the sanity of our staff is paramount in enabling us to carry out our mission.
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Hyatt doesn’t know how long COVID Recovery Iowa will specifically continue. It started in May 2020, and she didn’t expect it to continue a year and a half later, with a pending grant renewal that could continue until June. The state has received approximately $ 4.75 million from FEMA to fund the program so far.
“When the pandemic started, no one thought it would have an impact for as long as it has been, and we’re still there,” Hyatt said. “There is no past tense language that we can use. Our numbers are still important and people are still dying. ”
Get Free COVID-19 Advice
Learn more about COVID Recovery Iowa’s services at https://covidrecoveryiowa.org/ or call 844-775-9276 for help in English and 531-800-3687 for help in Spanish .
Nick Coltrain is a political and data reporter for the Registry. Contact him at email@example.com or 515-284-8361.