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Town residents behind therapy site for Covid-19 workers

Two Arlington neighbors with strong ties to medical communities have put their heads together to find a way for medical workers, beset by the Covid-19 crisis, to find therapy.

Ariel BrownAriel Brown:
"We feel there is a gap in [safeguarding] people’s mental health."

Any licensed mental-health professional is welcome to volunteer for the Emotional PPE Project.

Ariel Brown, associate director for medical science at Sage Therapeutics in Cambridge, created the site to connect front-line workers to resources. It aims to be “a source of personal protection supporting these heroes in their time of greatest emotional need,” its website says.

Any worker supporting Covid-19 patients is free to contact with a volunteer licensed mental-health practitioner in the directory. Each is dedicated to providing free therapy to the medical workers, with no insurance and no paperwork.

Brown's Arlington neighbor, Dan Saddawi-Konefka, anesthesia residency program director at Mass. General Hospital, suggested the need to support residents' mental health.

To date, Brown wrote in an email April 19, more than 100 practitioners have expressed interest, and 83 are verified or in the process of being verified, with coverage in nine states. The appeal went out about a month earlier.

Dan Saddawi-KonefkaDan Saddawi-Konefka:  "PTSD or anxiety or other wartime illness in health-care workers will be more prevalent."

“PPE [personal protective equipment] is getting thrown around a lot,” she told The Boston Globe, referring to the site's title. “People in hospitals need masks and equipment to protect them from the virus and keep them safe and healthy. We feel there is a gap in [safeguarding] people’s mental health, and we’re providing that protection.”

Brown has filed for 501(c)(3) status and assembled a staff of volunteers to help her run the effort, including an attorney as well as engineers and designers who’ve worked for Adobe, Facebook and Wikipedia.

“What we do is connect people,” Brown told The Globe. “Once they’re connected, the therapist and the client manage their own relationship and do whatever work they feel is appropriate."

An Arlington resident for seven years, Brown worked for seven years as a postdoctoral researcher at Mass. General’s psychiatry department and went on to work in medical writing. She joined her current employer, Sage Therapeutics, in 2017. At MGH, she saw firsthand that, pandemic or not, a resident’s life is filled with serious stressors.

“This is a group of people who works 80 hours per week trying to get used to hospital life,” she said. “People are dying around them. It’s very high-stress, emotional, and time-intensive.”

Addressing uncertainty that health-care workers face, Saddawi-Konefka choked up when he told The Globe some of the Covid-related pressures on his residents. That includes sending their children to live with relatives to avoid exposing them to the virus, seeing some patients suffer and die alone, and worrying about the fate of their colleagues.

Saddawi-Konefka, on the governing board of the Emotional PPE Project, wonders if after the pandemic, PTSD or anxiety or other wartime illness in health-care workers will be more prevalent. “Which is why if we’re living it right now and have the opportunity to offer interventions to prevent that, that’s all the better,” he said.

Ariel Brown DJs at Town Hall.Ariel Brown DJs at Town Hall.On the less serious side of things, Brown, who has a child at Thompson and one at an Arlington preschool, has an unexpected background – as a dance-party disk jockey.

The photo accompanying this story shows this holder of a doctorate in behavioral neurosciences from Boston University School of Medicine DJ-ing an Arlington public schools' event at Town Hall.

This musical yen dates to when she was an undergraduate at Skidmore, spinning disk for WSPN, the college radio station.


Maintaining Emotional Health & Well-Being During the COVID-19 Outbreak


This news feature was published Monday, April 20, 2020, based on information from BostonGlobe.com and Brown.

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