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Member Spotlight: Pine Rest Offers Psychological “First Aid” Across the U.S.

Member Spotlight: Pine Rest Offers Psychological “First Aid” Across the U.S.

Did you know Grand Rapids is home to one of the largest free-standing behavioral health providers in the United States? Since 1910, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services has been helping patients in West Michigan and beyond with a variety of services, including addiction treatment, brain stimulation therapy and the topic of today’s blog, the employee assistance program (EAP).

Coping with a Crisis, Big or Small

Member Spotlight: Pine Rest Offers Psychological “First Aid” Across the U.S. 1
Bob VandePol, Executive Director of Pine Rest’s Employee Assistance Program

Bob VandePol, Executive Director of the EAP, travels around the country working with employers who want to get their employees back on track after facing tragedy. In tough times, it can be hard to find a balance between being an employee and being a person, and the EAP’s main goal is to come in and give individuals psychological “first aid” so they can bounce back and be productive, happy employees. VandePol and his team of specially trained mental health professionals take on a wide range of incidents, from natural disasters to company reorganizations. He takes the perspective that “some tragedies are with a capital t, some are with a small t – but if it’s your tragedy, it’s a tragedy.”

When addressing a crisis, they work with leadership in the company in order to broadly impact all members of the business, and encourage everyone to work toward responding to tragedy with “competence and compassion” in order to help employees process their feelings and normalize the reactions they have.

Facing Tragedy in 2017

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Sign at the Mandalay Bay Resort following the mass shooting in Oct. 2017.

In October of 2017, Pine Rest sent a team of nine to Las Vegas in the wake of the mass shooting that left over 50 dead and 500 injured. Many hospitals were overwhelmed with the influx of patients, and Pine Rest was there to work with medical staff who were heavily impacted by the trauma they were seeing in the workplace. “They were mission-driven medical professionals who wanted to help, but they could only adequately serve a percentage of the victims per their usual standards,” said VandePol. “We helped them try not to beat themselves up for what they didn’t have control over and try to make sense out of everything.” VandePol iterates that the work he does can be difficult, but he and his team feel it’s an incredible honor, privilege, and responsibility to be there for the toughest times of people’s lives.

Hurricanes and Hope

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Pine Rest EAP crew in Houston for the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

Another major event of 2017 for the Pine Rest team was Hurricane Harvey. A crew of seven Pine Rest staff members, including Bob, joined the relief effort in Houston, Texas. They worked with a wide range of industries, including airlines, television news, and again, hospitals. VandePol explained that even in times of tragedy, he is continually elated to see the generosity of others, “Employers were giving out cash gifts, gift cards, water, and a lot of support in hastening the insurance process. It was neat to see how compassionate and generous the employers were to those in need.”

Helping Yourself and Others

Unfortunately, tragedies can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race, class or gender. In order to help yourself prepare for when things go wrong, VandePol suggests focusing on your own mental health, even when life is going great.

A loved one is dealing with trauma, what do you do? VandePol says there are 5 things you can provide to someone right away to help them heal:

  1. Safety – Let them know they are away from the threat.
  2. Community – Give them companionship to allow them to feel supported.
  3. Calming – Create order out of the chaos.
  4. Efficacy – Lets them focus on what they can do, not what they can’t.
  5. Hope – If they believe everything will get better, it will.

If you’re looking for a few more tips, Bob VandePol wrote a great blog on the topic.


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Anna Young Administrator
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