'This Is Not a Race, It's a Marathon': After the Tragedy at Northern IIIinois University, the Ben Gordon Center Helped the Community Heal

Article excerpt

The tragedy that hit Northern Illinois University (NIU) on February 14 turned the eyes of the nation to yet another college campus shooting, and the Ben Gordon Center (BGC) stepped in and stepped up to lend a hand in the aftermath.

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"On February 14 we reached out very quickly to NIU, and our staff of professionals continues to work with them and our community," says Michael Flora, president and CEO of the community mental health center in DeKalb County, Illinois. "We have always had a strong working relationship with NIU.... It was natural to respond so quickly."

Working with the Illinois Division of Mental Health, state emergency response authorities, and FEMA, BGC assembled its staff on-site right away to be available to help during the evacuation and also to staff the crisis phone lines as calls began flooding in. Once students began to return, BGC helped spread the word that counseling was available. "Our local county community mental health board worked with the university to coordinate volunteer counselors when students returned," says Flora.

As part of the county's disaster plan, a mental health disaster council was assembled, and BGC and other providers, homeless shelters, critical incident stress management(CISM) team members, domestic violence centers, hospices, schools, healthcare facilities, and various nonprofit organizations came together to make sure that information on crisis services was disseminated to primary care physicians, employers, school personnel, and the larger community. The state Division of Mental Health and the DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board coordinated Psychological First Aid Training for clinical providers and agency support teams to assist in the community's response efforts. The local CISM team also provided debriefing for community volunteers.

"The behavioral healthcare aspects of the trauma and tragedy were apparent from the beginning," notes Flora. "We saw it in the faces of our neighbors and friends. We heard it in the restaurants and churches. As community behavioral healthcare providers, we are in many cases the first call for help when there is an emotional issue.

"We have partnered with the Family Service Agency of DeKalb County and the DeKalb County Youth Service Bureau to provide free community wellness workshops," Flora continues. "We wanted to make sure that there was no 'wrong door' for anyone who requested information or needed services. …