Carol Elizabeth Owens
The state of New York has witnessed over 65,000 COVID-19 fatalities, including more than 1,500 COVID-19 deaths in Monroe County since the pandemic gained nationwide attention in 2020.
These losses are far more than statistical data for loved ones and friends who are left behind in the pandemic’s wake.
Local congressman Joe Morelle (25th Dist. NY) has called upon the national agency charged with administration of mental health programs to organize funding and programs to address grief related to COVID-19.
“COVID19 has denied family members of those in intensive care, nursing homes, and other congregate care facilities the ability to sit at their loved one’s [death bed], stripping away [ ] cherished final moments,” said Morelle in a letter to Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, head of the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in late-January 2022.
Morelle’s letter to SAMHSA also said, “While mental health has always been an important issue, the work that [SAMHSA is] doing is vital given the amplified impact of this public health emergency,” as he appealed to Delphin-Rittmon for COVID-19 grief assistance.
“I am calling for the creation of a new national strategy on grief,” Morelle’s letter said; also stating, “Native American, Black, and Hispanic and Latino communities have borne the brunt of the devastation of this pandemic, they are also disproportionately unlikely to have health insurance, and to have timely, affordable access to mental health care providers.”
Morelle also told SAMHSA, “It is time that we talk about and understand grief so we can all help each other through this difficult time.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has left millions of Americans grieving the loss of friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues, and loved ones,” said Edo Banach, president and chief executive officer of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and President of Hospice Action Network (NHPCO and HAN), in apparent support of Morelle’s call to action for a national COVID-19 grief support strategy.
“Saying goodbye to someone who is dying can be challenging and has been made measurably worse by the pandemic,” Morelle’s letter to SAMHSA said, adding, “[t]ravel restrictions and facility lockdowns have forced people to remain physically separated; [c]omfort is now provided through facemasks or video technology.”
Morelle’s request to the government agency for grief support aid stated, “Complicated grief and unresolved issues at death can cast a long shadow over those who survive.”…”[t]he chance to process grief, and receive the counsel of skilled professionals, may help many move forward.”
“Establishing a national grief strategy would help strengthen accessibility, reduce the stigma around mental health, and foster a culture with a greater awareness for the long-term health outcomes of grief that often go unaddressed,” Morelle said.