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Federal grant supports East Palestine post-derailment mental health

A sign reads, "Welcome to historic East Palestine, Ohio. 'Where you want to be.'"
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border became the center of national attention following the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has received a more than $800,000 federal grant to support mental health in East Palestine.

The community is still struggling to heal from the fiery Norfolk Southern train derailment in February. An Ohio Department of Health survey found that 61% of residents experienced anxiety after the derailment.

The emergency funding will cover therapy costs for community members and provide mental health training for first responders and residents.

The Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board surveyed the community to see what support they need, Executive Director Marcy Patton said.

“They were talking a lot about counseling and support groups," Patton said.

The grant will provide those services as well as trauma informed yoga and other nontraditional therapies in a community that previously lacked services, Patton said. These will be offered at the new Community Resiliency Center, which is funded by Norfolk Southern.

“We will have some counselors in there," Patton said, "but we’re also going to do some more nontraditional things such as trauma-focused yoga, chair massage, music and art therapies, mindfulness, meditation, animal therapy.”

Nontraditional therapies have proven popular in the rural area where mental health stigma remains high, Patton said.

"I think a lot of them are asking for just some of those more nontraditional things that we're putting into the resiliency center, that you have some place to go and relax," Patton said.

The mental health system or lack thereof in East Palestine was not prepared for a disaster like this, Patton said.

"I'm sorry that it took a train derailment to get some of these things," Patton said, "but we want to take advantage of this opportunity and do whatever we can to support the people."

Funding will also go toward hiring staff to support these increased services, including at the Community Resiliency Center, Patton said.

"We're also going to have a community navigator there who will be there to assist residents in identifying and accessing resources that they need," Patton said.

Other hires include an educator, outreach specialists, counselors, a project director and peer supporters, Patton said.

Funding will also expand and enhance the community's crisis response system.

"We're going to increase the availability of one of our certified crisis peer supporters who will be assigned to the East Palestine Police Department to work with them to provide peer support as they're addressing people with either mental health or substance use needs," Patton said.

In addition to this, money will be used to provide support training and therapy for first responders.

"We'll also be doing some trainings there on compassion fatigue and burnout, selfcare for first responders," Patton said.

The grant period is 12 months, and the board may be looking for more funding in the future to make some of these programs permanent, Patton said.

"Once we have these services up and running, and of course, a lot of this is being paid for under the grant, then how do we continue to offer, especially those things that we find are really helpful to people?," Patton said.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.