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Greg Demetriou

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We Must Work Together To Defeat Coronavirus

U.S. Army Medical Personnel from the 531st Hospital Center out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky and the 9th Hospital Center out of Fort Hood, Texas walk amongst cubicles in phase 2 of the Javits New York Medical Station at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Call it social distancing, self-isolation, or quarantine, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. We are fighting something that is almost beyond our comprehension. A virus that if it went unchecked could wipe out millions.  

The battle is reminiscent of the great war efforts that the United States and the world have mounted before. World War II saw the country mobilize and focus all efforts on the fight at hand. The citizens were asked to buy War Bonds. Manufacturers of every stripe ramped up production of the implements of war or converted their equipment to produce everything from soup to socks to helmets to support the troops. Men and women stepped up and joined the ranks of those on the front lines. Are we much different today?  

The story is yet to be written on how effective we are in this fight, but the chapters are already taking shape. A new chapter will undoubtedly be the dissemination of a thriving economy and how it will be saved.

The government, to shore up the country’s citizens and families, has taken unprecedented steps to create a financial safety net. Passing relief bills in the trillions, heretofore unheard of. 

People who have been laid off or lost their jobs completely will receive cash payments meant to tide them over until the crisis passes. Many types of concessions on taxes and payments have been formulated and activated. Banking and credit institutions are declaring mortgage and credit debt holidays and accommodations.

Businesses are severely impacted as commerce becomes a trickle of what it was just weeks ago. Non-essential businesses were required to send their employees home. Working remotely has become the norm for those that can. Many thousands and millions of the workers are now unemployed or at best working reduced hours. Claims for unemployment benefits are in the millions.

A survey of business owners by The New York Times revealed that four out of 10 owners feared that their businesses would become insolvent and not survive if the economy did not return and return soon. Many of these companies are fighting for survival. Credit lines and personal savings are being used to hold on in the short term.

The hope is that the financial support the government has passed will arrive in time. Owners are cautious about relying too heavily on the rhetoric coming out of Washington and the state houses.

All the talk in the world does not put people to work or cash back into the businesses. The longer it takes to distribute the promised relief funds the more businesses will not make it. It will simply come too late.

A look at the restaurants and bars is frightening. They are notorious for being short on cash flow and on average can weather about a two month interruption of business. In a defensive action they have resorted to offering takeout or delivery, but that doesn’t come close to seating people at the empty tables. Follow that thread and you see the bartenders, waiters, waitresses, and bus boys all sidelined and gaining little or no income.

Manufacturers have been forced to shutter unless they have been designated as essential.  Whole industries are clambering that they too should be considered essential, for some it is a very hollow argument. Some manufacturers, as seen in WWII, have either been asked or voluntarily begun producing the critical items needed to fight the virus; namely hand sanitizers, N05 masks, Personal Protective Equipment, and, of course, ventilators.

Big Pharma, previously cast as a villain, is now the hope of the nation. They are working at breakneck speed to test, approve, and produce drugs and therapies that are lifesaving. The FDA has removed as many obstacles and regulations that it can to facilitate progress. Government programs are being formulated that will take the risk out of producing new effective drugs prior to full approval so that they are ready to go as soon as the green light shines.

There is a whole of government effort taking place right beside a whole of the country support. People are taking this fight seriously and doing their part by following the restrictions and guidelines religiously. A common goal is defeating the pandemic within our shores, stemming the progress globally and supporting our fellow man.

The soul of the country is strong, even with houses of worship closed. Every day stories are being told about individuals and companies reaching out to help those on the front lines.  Food deliveries are being sent to hospitals, firehouses, police precincts and ambulance corps. Gowns, gloves and masks are being donated in the millions. Prayers are being offered in abundance that God will bless us with a victory.

The greatest generation gave us the road map for this fight. To a large extent this enemy is aimed at the remaining war fighters from years gone by. It is up to us to honor their heritage and fight just a valiantly.

Greg Demetriou is CEO of Lorraine Gregory Communications

Dial 988 Planned as National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Sometimes the government actually listens and helps. 

Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has championed the creation of a three-digit national phone number for those in critical circumstances and looking for help. Suicide prevention has risen to the American consciousness, which is a good thing. The interest correlates to the epidemic-level suicides impacting law enforcement, first responders, and military veterans. Suicides outside of those segments are also on the rise.  

Prior to the establishment of the 988 national number, those seeking help would have to dial a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (if they even knew it) to access help. The new number will be subject to extensive public relations and marketing campaigns to raise awareness and prompt those in crisis to use it and quickly get connected to help.

The importance of this change cannot be overstated and is driven by the numbers. In 2018 more than 2.2 million calls were received by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 163 crisis centers around the country. Also considered were the 10 million-plus American adults who seriously contemplated committing suicide and 1.4 million who attempted it. Suicide rates have continued to rise since World War II; in 2018, more than 47,000 people died by suicide.

Making it easier for the millions of those in need was the exact focus of this major development.  The existing 1-800-273-TALK is and has been saving lives and will remain active during the transition period and beyond. The 988 number will be a faster way for those at a most critical time. This author believes that using the “9” number equates to the same psychology as using 911. Calling 988 will be synonymous with saying, “I need help right now.”

All major telecoms, cellular, and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP/phone service over the internet) will be building out the infrastructure to support the 988 functionalities. The expected time frame will be 18 months but there is optimism that the period will be shorter.

The FCC is required to have public comment and analyze and foster the projected implementation to bring 988 live across the country. Making 988 a reality is the responsibility of all of us. Please contact the FCC at fcc.gov/about/contact or call 1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322) to encourage the rapid implementation of 988.

 Greg Demetriou is CEO of Lorraine Gregory Communications.

For Those With PTSD, Help Is Available

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an invisible potential killer. Traumatic incidents or continued stressful situations like military, law enforcement, or even many of the other first responders experience in the line of duty can create a potentially lethal cocktail of sights, sounds and images that haunt.  

Clearly not everyone faced with those situations is affected, but for the ones that are, it can lead to a very dark deep place. The suicide rates are going through the roof. One in five veterans’ returning from war will develop PTSD and 36 percent of them will be classified as at risk for suicide.  Veterans PTSD suicides account for more than 5,000 deaths per year. Five million Americans suffer from some form of PTSD.  

Without treatment PTSD’s negative effects are sleeplessness, extreme anxiety, depression, self-loathing, and too often suicidal thoughts or actions.  

The Police in New York City have been particularly impacted of late. The epidemic of police officer suicides in the city has prompted Police Commissioner James O’Neill to declare a mental health crisis in the department amid the recent spate of tragedies. The suicides have been a recurring nightmare for the nation’s largest police force and have driven a discussion about the psychological toll of police work where a discussion of mental health was long taboo.  

“This was something that no one ever spoke about” said O’Neill.

Law enforcement departments all over the country are hoping to change that mindset. The attention is now focused on the epidemic. Serious people have recognized that action has to be taken.  

On Long Island, both Nassau and Suffolk County Police Commissioners have, or are very soon, instituting measures aimed to stem the tide of the police suicides, including new wellness training, videos, and a full-time chaplain.

Daily, one encounters the sad news that a former military warrior or police officer has taken his or her own life.  Each of those tears a small piece of my heart.

I am one of the lucky ones. I was diagnosed with PTSD from a violent shooting incident in New York City in which a uniform police officer died and I was severely wounded. However, the diagnosis didn’t come for months after the event.  

The beginning of symptoms and multiple trips to the hospital set the stage for my being sent to see a professional. It was humiliating to sit in a gloomy office and be told that I was damaged in a different way from my physical injury. It was confusing to me because I saw myself as the virile, front-of-the-line, go-getter detective.  Here I was being told that I had PTSD and would need psychotherapy and medication in the form of tranquilizers and antidepressants.

For more than 10 years I never left home without my pills in fear of another attack. I can tell you that this existence and resulting inability to think in a straight-line wreaked havoc on my life. I looked perfectly healthy, no scars, limp or any outward sign that I was broken inside. I used to wish that I had some outward indication because than maybe people would understand.

That was not the case. It was a lonely internal battle many times. I never quite went down the dark and deep hole, nor did I have suicidal thoughts, but I do understand that that line could be easy to cross.

Talking to subject matter experts reveals that even they approach PTSD with sympathetic but different mindsets.

Judy Elias and Michael Haltman of the Heroes to Heroes Foundation working with vets and law enforcement believe that a loss of faith is a key contributing factor in suicide deaths. They say that many suffer from moral injury that damages one’s conscience or moral compass. Their program is based upon helping to rebuild spirituality by exposing their clients to the Holy Land and the many sacred places there.  They report very large success with more than 300 going through their program and returned to good mental health.

Another organization joining the fight against PTSD suicides is Code 9 who has developed The Code 9 T.U.F. Program is a Universal Peer Support Program that gives all ACTIVE duty first responders — federal, state, and local — access to safe, anonymous, and confidential peer support.

The guaranteed confidentiality is a strong lure for officers who fear departmental segregation, censure, or transfers to desk assignments.  

Code 9 Heroes and Families United, a separate, but equally devoted organization, has recently posted a video that exposes some of the realities of PTSD in law enforcement officers and their families. It can be seen on YouTube. (Search: Code 9 Officer Needs Assistance).

Even horses are being brought into the battle against PTSD. Pal-O-Mine Equine Therapy is a nonprofit organization on Long Island that uses the EAGALA Model of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP). Specially trained horses are employed in the therapy session with the veterans that is more action based than talk.  

This model is increasingly being used to treat veterans and their families who suffer from the effects of PTSD, such as anger, depression, anxiety, nightmares, irritability, addiction, and other debilitating conditions. In addition, EAP has also been used with veterans and their families dealing with traumatic brain injury.

The challenge is daunting for our veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs study reveals that more than 20 veterans each day take their own lives. Annualized that is more than 7,000 deaths.

With the motto “It Takes A Community To Heal A Warrior,” Mission 22 is an organization that was created to aid the veteran population enduring difficult transitions to civilian life often exacerbated by PTSD. They have teamed up with Full Spectrum Health to create the Warrior Integration Now (WIN) program.

This is a 12-month program with the goal to eliminate or reduce the symptoms of trauma. By addressing the underlying physiological and psychological imbalances to instill a more durable feeling of calmnessThe method works through balancing hormone and brain chemical imbalances, creating greater alignment with your authentic self.

Mission 22 believes that when you change your physiology you change your psychology. When you change your psychology, you change the way you see the world and your place in it. When you change that, you change the mission that drives you. and communities. To support this change, key skills of self mastery are taught for greater engagement with heart and mind. 

These and many more programs, organizations, charities, and nonprofits are recognizing the depth of the PTSD problem and are responding. The methodology may be different, but the goal is the same, saving those suffering PTSD, helping prevent suicides and returning them to normal mental health and productive lifestyles.

Long Island Heroin Crisis Affects Us All

Heroin on Long Island

Everyone is separated from actor Kevin Bacon by six degrees, so the joke goes, but sadly, the heroin and opioid crisis does not have as many levels before it touches us all.

Everyone I speak with knows someone or has loved ones who suffered a tragic fatal overdose. Be they celebrities, executives, politicians, skilled or unskilled workers, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters or cousins, none are immune from being affected by the disease of addiction, especially heroin.

So many stories tear at the hearts of individuals and families. A grandparent loses a 20 something grandchild, a father finds his son dead of an overdose from his very first use of heroin. Best friends are burying each other. Each story is unique, yet founded in a crisis of epic proportions.

Nassau and Suffolk counties – a bit more in Suffolk – are leading the list of geographic areas suffering the most. In 2016, Long Island reportedly suffered 539 deaths due to opioids, primarily heroin laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. Total opioid deaths have increased by two and one-half times since 2010.

The problem has been building, but now that we have public awareness of the crisis, we need to advance the strategy to combat it. Long Island cannot afford to become complacent and lose so many of our young people, jeopardizing our future.

The long list of those I’ve discussed the issue with, from law enforcement leaders to anti-drug advocates, just scratches the surface of those trying to stem the tide of these preventable deaths. Our actions must reach across all social, economic, political, ethnic and religious groups, organizations and individuals so that we act in a unified effort that will be greater than the sum of the parts.

If we can create a realistic plan and execute it according to our expertise, financial ability and energy, many lives can be saved. Lawmakers and law enforcement officials need to step up prosecution of those who divert prescription fentanyl, which is often illicitly acquired from overseas and makes today’s heroin weak by comparison to the old days.

We also need to recognize that despite widespread efforts to legalize marijuana, it may
still be a gateway to heroin. All business sectors are impacted by this epidemic every day in lost employees, workplace disruption when one of the team dies, revenue lost while workers grieve, theft by addicts, violent robberies and murders at the hands of addicts.

There is no escaping, we are all affected and it will take all of us working together to eradicate the crisis and save our neighbors from anguish and loss of their loved ones.

Greg Demetriou is president and CEO of Lorraine Gregory Communications.