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April 19, 2014

Healing wounds 19 years later

Red Cross team sees spike in bombing-related cases

EDMOND — A mental health expert said during the past 12 months a Red Cross Oklahoma City bombing team has opened more cases than during the early 2000s combined, and many are for first responders.

Hundreds of Oklahomans and others nationwide are expected to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial site Saturday morning to participate in a ceremony for the 168 lives lost and remember the hundreds more whose lives were shattered 19 years ago.

On April 19, 1995, a 4,800-pound ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb exploded in a Ryder truck parked at the north entrance of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, causing the deaths of 168 men, women and children; many others were wounded.

Waves of police officers, firefighters, medical personnel and relief workers responded. Mental health providers were requested at all operational sites and in the community.

The American Psychological Association Task Force final report (1997) on the mental health response to what was at the time the worst domestic terrorist act committed on U.S. soil stated records indicate that excluding federal agencies:

• 74 police departments, 33 sheriff’s offices and eight state agencies sent 2,305 officers to the scene;

• 57 fire departments sent 1,894 personnel;

• 75 ambulance services sent 112 units, five helicopters/planes and 552 medics; and

• 11 urban search and rescue teams responded with 616 personnel.

The governor’s office reported that 30 children were orphaned, 219 children lost at least one parent, 462 people were left homeless and 7,000 people lost their workplace. The City of Oklahoma City estimated more than 300 buildings in a 48-square-block area were damaged.

John Tassey, Ph.D., Mickey Potts, LPC, Laurie Barbour and Ruth Wright are members of the Red Cross Oklahoma City bombing case team.

Tassey, who began serving with the Red Cross after the Edmond Post Office massacre of 1986, said many first responders who were there suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and many civilians forget about the “Post” part.

Immediately after the blast, mental health professionals provided services at the bombing site, local hospitals and the local chapter of the American Red Cross where family members gathered to receive information about loved ones. More than 70 local mental health professionals, activated by the Disaster Response Network, responded the first day.

Tassey were there on scene 45 minutes to an hour after the blast. That evening, he was at 8th Street and Harvey, providing “psychological first aid” to fire service personnel coming off shift, many of whom recovered victims.

Psychological first aid is a technique designed to reduce the occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder. Guidelines say it involves communicating calmly, communicating warmth, establishing a relationship, using concrete questions to help the person focus, coming to an agreement on something and speaking to the person with respect.

Within 24 hours, centralized operation sites were established — a Red Cross shelter for individuals displaced from a nearby apartment complex, a family assistance center at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church and a medical examiner’s office (the Compassion Center) death notification/family assistance center at First Christian Church, according to the final report.

Tassey said he was providing help about every day. He said first responders sometimes cope with stress by keeping focused on their work and staying busy. For some, at later dates they realized they needed help and sought it.

Caregivers helped each other by doing things such as limiting case load, Tassey said.

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  • Candidates disagree with White House’s minimum wage

    Gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said the state needs to have serious growth in high-paying living wage jobs that will provide for Oklahomans.
    Dorman cautioned that while Oklahoma’s jobless rate improved in June, the state’s rankings for the well-being of children has dropped from 36th to 39th place, for one of the largest declines in the U.S., according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Project.
    The unemployment rate in June dropped to 4.5 percent, down a percentage point from 4.6 percent in May, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, Gov. Mary Fallin said this week.
    The state’s unemployment rate was more than 7 percent when Fallin was elected during the brink of the Great Depression. Alex Weintz, communications director for Fallin, pointed out that per capita income in Oklahoma was second in the nation from 2011 to 2013.
    The non partisan Congressional Budget office reported in February that raising the minimum wage could kill a half-million jobs in the United States.
    According to The Washington Times, CBO analysts reported, “Once the other changes in income were taken into account, families whose income would be below six times the poverty threshold under current law would see a small increase in income, on net, and families whose income would be higher under current law would see reductions in income, on net.”
    President Barack Obama in February signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour.
    Weintz said the governor believes tax cuts have enabled families to keep more of their money.
    No one is talking about the under-employment rate of families working minimum wage jobs, Dorman said.
    “It’s all fine and good when you have fast-food jobs that don’t cover the bills and that counts toward your unemployment rate.”
    Oklahoma’s minimum wage reflects the federal minimum wage set at $7.25 an hour, a standard set in 2009.
    Fallin signed legislation this year to prohibit municipalities from raising their local minimum wage above $7.25 an hour.
    “If the minimum wage goes up to $15 in Oklahoma City, all of the sudden you would drive retail, business, service industry locations outside of the city limits and that would be detrimental to the economy, consumers and to businesses,” Weintz said.
    Fallin has said that she opposes raising the minimum wage in Oklahoma because it would stifle job growth for small business and lay off workers. A lot of people earning the $7.25 minimum wage are part-time workers and many of them are students, Weintz said.
    “We believe raising the minimum wage is not a good way to address poverty,” Weintz said. “A lot of people earning the minimum wage are actually people living with their parents or other people who are employed full time, and in many cases they are middle class families. So it’s not a good tool to reduce poverty.”
    Dorman said he does not necessarily support the proposed $10.10 an hour minimum federal minimum wage that is being discussed by Congress.
    “I think we need to have a living wage in Oklahoma that is reflective of our economy,” Dorman said.
    About 102,300 jobs have been added in Oklahoma since Fallin took office in January 2011, according to her office.
    The cost of living in the national economy tends to be higher in some other states, Dorman said.
    So a minimum wage increase should be tied to economic gains so that families can pay their bills and afford to care for their children, Dorman said.
    Independent candidates for governor include Richard Prawdzienski of Edmond, Joe Sills of Oklahoma City and Kimberly Willis of Oklahoma City.

    July 24, 2014

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