From minutes after the shooting, until today – one year later – behavioral health has remained at the forefront of our community’s response to the horrific events of Aug. 3, 2019; when a lone gunman opened fire in a crowded store and forever changed the fabric of our community.
Thanks to the support of city and county officials, the Office of Emergency Management, and fellow health care providers and first responders, Emergence Health Network took the lead in ensuring El Pasoans have ongoing access to behavioral health supports and services.
Even before the shooting, our community had taken significant steps to break down barriers in emergency response planning by giving Emergence a seat at the table and ensuring whole-person treatment for victims, families and other affected individuals. Effective behavioral health crisis response is a gradual and deliberate process – one where the needs of individuals change with each painful milestone.
From the availability of specially trained mental health first responders, to compassionate ongoing clinical supports, and community-wide education campaigns that stress the importance of seeking help, Emergence has worked with its partners to develop a recovery process worthy of national recognition.
Every person will deal with this anniversary in their unique way. In a binational, bicultural community like El Paso, this is especially true. What we must remember is that the police officer who was on the scene, the grieving son or daughter, the ER nurse or victim services worker – they all have unique mental health needs. We must support them and allow mental health professionals to guide their healing process.
We must also fight the lack of education and false, preconceived notions associated with receiving mental health treatment. Many in our community remain hesitant to seek out the help they need. It is important that these individuals know help is just a phone call away.
One of the most impactful experiences of the past year was the overwhelming support from every sector of the community.
Shortly after the shooting, Emergence was asked to bring together individuals and organizations to assist in community education and outreach efforts. It was so inspiring to see people and organizations from throughout the city come forward and generously give of their time and expertise.
Educators, law enforcement officers, religious leaders, heads of social service agencies and many others stepped up to ensure the safety of their fellow El Pasoans. Through their collective efforts, we have an effective messaging campaign especially tailored to our community.
This spirit of goodwill and collaboration was evident throughout the year. With every project and initiative, individuals lined up to give generously.
I believe it is this spirit of generosity that makes El Paso truly special, and it is this reason that we will not only survive our present challenges but will flourish and thrive in years to come.
The response of the El Paso community is inspiring and a shining example of how communities overcome the devastation of domestic terrorism.
As head of the Local Mental Health Authority, I must recognize the dedication of my fellow members of the behavioral health community during this solemn anniversary – our psychiatrists, therapists, caseworkers and many others who gave so much of themselves this year as they helped victims deal with the devastating trauma, loss and fear we all experienced in the aftermath.
These brave behavioral health first responders sacrificed so that others can heal, and they continue to play a vital role as El Paso’s journey of healing continues. Together, we will recover and forge a new, stronger sense of community.
Kristi Daugherty, LCSW, LISW, MBA, is the chief executive of Emergence Health Network, the largest provider of mental health, intellectual/developmental disabilities and substance abuse treatment services in El Paso County.