In partnership with Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, the West Islip School District hosted a virtual seminar on mental and preventative health amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Nov. 19.
Roughly 100 people, including district officials, students, faculty and community members, tuned into the Zoom webinar “Coping with COVID.” The forum featured hospital and school district experts.
Michelle Walsh, West Islip’s director of intervention services, led the webinar, which was divided into three parts.
Hospital director of psychiatry Louis Teitelbaum discussed his experience working in the hospital during COVID-19 and how the pandemic intertwines with mental health.
The hospital quickly adapted to the virus by constructing roughly 140 ICU beds. To cope, department heads hosted daily meetings, and relevant information was shared with hospital community members and employees, Teitelbaum said. Although hospital staff witnessed the deaths of many, he said, the overall fatality rate has decreased.
Teitelbaum said Good Samaritan Hospital is expected to provide a COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available. Refrigeration equipment has been installed to store it. Vaccines may be provided at a different location.
There was a large number of younger people – mainly women – that presented suicidal ideation immediately following the pandemic. Coping is a conscious effort, he said, and in time, people can recover.
Teitelbaum said that social media is designed to distract, and the media often presents information in “an inflammatory way.” He advised viewers to obtain advice and information about COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York State Department of Health, or Islip Town website.
Good Samaritan Hospital social worker Catherine Deluise-Fletcher explained a therapeutic technique called “grounding” to viewers, which she said involves using the five senses to rid anxiety and focus on surroundings.
“You really need to engage yourself in thinking about these things you’re experiencing and move away from the anxious thought,” Deluise-Fletcher said.
Kathy DiBenedetto, director of infection prevention at Good Samaritan and nurse, said basic infection-prevention techniques – like frequent hand hygiene, social distancing, mask-wearing – must always be practiced.
DiBenedetto explained Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new travel plan and urged viewers to follow state guidelines about gatherings.
Students in West Islip schools currently follow safety guidelines and procedures procured by the CDC and New York State Department of Health, school nurse Sharon Kerrigan said. There has not been an uptick of COVID-19 cases in the district.
In the classroom, students have been learning about mindfulness. Some younger students have participated in yoga and Zumba classes, while some older students are expected to watch webinars about anti-bullying and anti-vaping, conducted by Suffolk County officials.
To encourage positive coping mechanisms, teacher Tricia Mileti said she’s focused on drug prevention in the classroom. She makes lists of fun activities for students in an effort to avoid boredom, which can sometimes result in unhealthy behaviors.
“Our teachers and staff… are going above and beyond to make sure children feel safe, at home, and supported,” Mileti said.
School social workers and psychologists are pushing into classrooms for lessons, and are providing counseling services and consolations for students as needed.
Regardless of the learning model and barriers put in front of the district, Walsh said, the “dedicated” staff and faculty are supporting all children in the district.
“The message here to the community is that your children are in good hands,” Walsh said.