Department of Psychiatry: A Nationally Recognized Center for Disaster Behavioral Health 

Anthony Speier, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry 

It is a tradition and an expectation among Louisiana communities, healthcare agencies, social service providers, and state government that in times of need, the LSUHSC Department of Psychiatry will be there offering a helping hand. The Department of Psychiatry has consistently been a leader and innovator in disaster behavioral health innovation and has provided essential consultation and services to the state since Hurricane Andrew tore through southeastern Louisiana in late August 1992. 

In response to numerous hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and other environmental and human caused disasters, the work of the Department of Psychiatry is known and appreciated throughout the United States and countries in Asia, South America, and Europe. The Department of Psychiatry is consistently available to identify gaps in interventions that may place survivors at psychological risk and are available to help design, develop and deliver services during all phases of response and recovery. Following Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon Oil spill (2010), psychiatry faculty provided leadership in the design of innovative approaches for the delivery of counseling services, and developed models of training for local providers using evidence-informed interventions.  In addition, LSUHSC faculty members were available for consultation and stress reduction services for first responders and disaster survivors. 

 Work of the Department in the area of disaster behavioral health is an investment in clinical practice and scientific knowledge that is currently paying dividends for communities, the state, and the region. The Department of Psychiatry has recently been awarded a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) five-year grant through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.  The Terrorism and Disaster Coalition for Child and Family Resilience (TDC4CFR) is directed by Drs. Howard J. Osofsky, Principal Investigator and Dr. Joy D. Osofsky, Co-Principal Investigator (Department of Pediatrics). The Department is the only center funded through this initiative for the advancement of disaster behavioral health. LSUHSC is now the destination site for assisting not only Louisiana but the nation in developing sustainable approaches for building resilience among children and families impacted by disasters and acts of terrorism.   

The TDC4CFR is charged with the responsibility of establishing Disaster Behavioral Health Coalitions strategically located across disaster and terrorism prone regions in the country.  During the first year of coalition development across the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas), the TDC4CFR team has applied communication skills and organizational development strategies successfully.  The strategy involves practitioners and survivor-recipients of services as co-partners in individual and community recovery.  

Within the last month, once again Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have devastated Gulf Coast States. The LSUHSC Department of Psychiatry has been working with Texas and Florida to identify subject matter experts and seasoned disaster behavioral health professionals, educators, child welfare experts, along with emergency managers, and community stakeholders as participants in state-specific coalition activities and collectively as the regional gulf coast coalition.  

The major emphasis has been recognizing that our collective knowledge and skills can facilitate the response and recovery process. Our TDC4CFR team is actively involved in sharing information and recovery efforts. The Gulf Coast Coalition is currently convening highly valued bi-weekly meetings with state officials and provider agencies to support recovery efforts in Texas and Florida.  

TDC4CFR faculty recently provided interviews for National Public Radio, local WWL news, the Atlantic, Washington Post, Newsweek, and Education Review on the impact of disasters on children of different ages and ways to prepare children and families for the return to schools and homes after the hurricanes.    

The world of disaster incidents is often unpredictable regarding intensity and degree of devastation to infrastructure as well as psychological and social damage to individuals and families. LSUHSC Psychiatry is engaged in building sustainable coalitions to mitigate the psychological impact of disasters and terrorist acts on people and communities and to foster resilience.