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Health care workers at Mercy Hospitals in Springfield and Joplin are being trained in Psychological First Aid

PFA is designed to equip those impacted by mass casualty events with basic knowledge and support.

Some Mercy Springfield employees are undergoing training in Psychological First Aid or PFA.

The training this week is part of a larger initiative across the Mercy system to prepare workers for mass casualty events like shootings or natural disasters.

Doug Walker, clinical psychologist and chief programs director at Mercy Family Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, provides the training. He said the goal is to be prepared for mass casualty events in a way that prioritizes mental health.

“We know that if we do our job in the acute phase in providing information on coping, supporting individuals in the acute phase after a traumatic event," he said, "the long term outcomes are likely better.”

Doug Walker presents Psychological First Aid Training at Mercy Springfield on May 20, 2024.
Ettie Berneking\Mercy
Doug Walker presents Psychological First Aid Training at Mercy Springfield on May 20, 2024.

He said not everyone needs therapy after a disaster. If those who respond to mass casualty events can equip those impacted with basic knowledge and support in the near term, there might not be a need for a higher level of care, according to Walker.

"Psychological First Aid is designed in the near term to get people on track, to get people what they need," said Walker, "so it's very client centered in that way and more of what we call a warm handoff — what's next for them? Do we refer them to a mental health provider or other types of resources in the community?”

He said PFA takes a three-pronged approach: Medical workers respond to patients coming in the door. There’s a family information center where people who come to ask about their loved ones can receive guidance. And there’s a MASH room or mental health and spiritual health space for health workers so they can remain mentally healthy and continue to provide care.

Walker has done trainings on PFA in the St. Louis area, and after he leaves Springfield, he’ll focus on providing training in Joplin, northern Arkansas and Oklahoma.