Officials with the Louisiana Department of Health announced today that they have received one of the largest federal grants ever awarded for crisis counseling. The $34.7 million grant is from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will provide for the continuation of mental health services through Louisiana Spirit to residents affected by last year’s hurricanes.

Louisiana Spirit, the federally funded Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP) for individuals, families and groups most affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, focuses on addressing post-hurricane disaster mental health needs and other long-term disaster recovery initiatives.

"We can't thank FEMA and SAMHSA enough for their commitment to addressing one of the most critical recovery issues facing our community- mental health," said Louisiana Recovery Authority Board Member Calvin Mackie. "They gave us the chance to make the case for this grant and now they've graciously agreed to fund it. In return, we'll be able to continue helping people cope with the trauma of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita."

Dr. Roxane Townsend, deputy secretary for LDH, said the grant will allow the agency to serve more people who are suffering after the storms.

“Study after study shows that the most pressing health care need in the New Orleans and Calcasieu regions is mental health issues. People are suffering due to the loss of a job, due to the destruction of their homes and due to the displacement of their families. Sometimes, all it takes is a person to talk to who can listen to the problem and then offer coping tips or make a referral to the proper treatment service,” Townsend said.

Townsend added that the funding can not be used for treatment, but that it is a first and important step toward helping people recover and access the services they need.

“There will still be a critical need to open up more treatment facilities such as inpatient mental health beds, outpatient clinics and other services, but the ability to reach out to people with basic counseling services and trained counselors is a needed step. On behalf of the Department of Health and the State, I thank the federal government for their continued support.

Just last week, LDH announced that it has re-opened 10 adult acute care beds at the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital. Over the next few weeks, 10 more beds will open. In addition, LDH has opened 24 similar beds at Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville and will staff additional beds in Jackson, LA.