The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is providing funding through a SAMHSA Emergency Response Grant (SERG) to the state of Pennsylvania to support community wellness and resilience, following the Norfolk Southern freight train derailment and related chemical spill that occurred in February in East Palestine, Ohio. East Palestine is on Ohio’s border with Pennsylvania.
This week, Pennsylvania will receive an initial, 90-day SERG of $48,782, with additional funding expected after 90 days to continue for an additional 12 months to support activities. The grant funding is expected to support the immediate and ongoing behavioral health needs of the community related to the initial incident and subsequent traumatic experiences, to minimize the long-term impacts and foster resilience in the community, and to expand and enhance the capacity of local crisis response systems to ensure adequate and effective intervention in situations of crisis.
“We want Pennsylvanians affected by the East Palestine derailment to have the resources and supports they need to work through the toll on their mental health,” said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and the leader of SAMHSA. “Trauma can be felt in a number of ways and is personal to each individual. We hope these funds will help individuals get the support they need and will promote resiliency.”
Community members, including first responders, may experience acute stress responses following incidents like the one in East Palestine, including difficulty sleeping, nightmares, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating, changes in energy or activity levels, and increases in substance use. Because environmental emergencies impact the entire community, public mental health supports are focused on community-led activities that improve wellness as the community defines their unique needs and goals in recovery.
Following the train derailment and chemical spill, SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline, at 1-800-985-5990, provided immediate counseling to anyone affected by the train derailment. Disaster Distress Helpline counselors are available 24/7 to respond to people who need crisis counseling after experiencing a traumatic event or a disaster. Counselors are trained to offer support to people who may be experiencing a range of symptoms.