St. Paul’s pioneering disaster care

Promise Magazine: Spring/Summer 2015

The shock of a disaster, such as an earthquake or plane crash, can take a devastating mental and physical toll on individuals.

That’s why St. Paul’s is taking a leadership role by pioneering a hospital-based team that supports individuals and staff, along with families seeking loved ones, during a disaster.
“The Disaster Psychosocial Response Team provides practical care and support to individuals affected by a disaster,” says Dr. Suja Srikameswaran, professional practice leader for Psychology at St. Paul’s and co-chair of the hospital’s Disaster Psychosocial Response Team (PSRT).

“We assess the needs of individuals, and provide support and reunification services to friends and family members who accompany loved ones to hospital.” Dr. Suja Srikameswaran co-chairs the Disaster Psychosocial Response Team at St. Paul’s.

Psychosocial casualties – people suffering from intense shock, fear and anxiety capable of producing physical symptoms – can inundate hospitals during disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. St. Paul’s is addressing this challenge through PSRT.

Formed in 2009, PSRT is an interdisciplinary and collaborative team consisting of staff from spiritual care, social work, psychology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, nursing and the Centre for Practitioner Renewal, which supports health care workers in the workplace.

The team conducts emergency drills to practise the systems and plans it develops. During the 2011 Stanley Cup riots, it put practice into action, providing psychological first aid and family reunification to 20 community members.

To share their systems with others, the PSRT developed a handbook, the first of its kind in Canada, which outlines procedures for a hospital to provide a psychosocial response during a disaster. Already, the team has received requests for their handbook from other health authorities in BC, along with hospitals in Washington State and Oregon.

“The response to this program has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Srikameswaran. “We are very proud to be able to offer this to the community.”

Donors play a crucial role in enabling St. Paul’s to deliver world-leading care, research and medical teaching that benefits people throughout British Columbia and around the world.