COVID-19: Severe Stress Among New York Emergency Workers Prompts Donor Response

COVID-19: Severe Stress Among New York Emergency Workers Prompts Donor Response

Holly Hall

covid severe stress

Reprinted with permission from Inside Philanthropy



After a mentally ill patient killed an emergency medical responder and parent of five children, the EMS FDNY Help Fund was created three years ago to help people affiliated with the Emergency Medical Services of the Fire Department of New York. Now, as the coronavirus pandemic drags on with a second wave feared this winter, caring for the mental health of these essential workers has become a serious concern, in addition to their other needs.

Fortunately, donors are beginning to respond to the EMS FDNY Help Fund’s fundraising efforts to provide food, emergency funds and counseling to the beleaguered professionals, says Danielle Gustafson, the fund’s executive director.

Three New York emergency medical workers have committed suicide in recent months; two others died from mental health issues related to the pandemic, and five have died after contracting the virus, she says. Many more are suffering from stress symptoms like substance abuse, divorce, insomnia and other problems related to their harrowing work.

In April, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a collaboration between the Department of Defense (DoD), NYC Health + Hospitals, and Greater New York Hospital Association to begin providing mental health support to front-line workers, including elements of the DoD’s combat stress training. But according to Gustafson, not a single person among more than 4,000 emergency medical workers has received the training.

“The psychological toll of handling COVID-19 calls is just unbelievable,” Gary Miller, a retired emergency services worker who serves on the fund’s board, told the New York Post.

Suicide, severe illness and psychological problems for emergency medical and other front-line healthcare providers are not confined to New York. A new overview was released last month by six medical professionals who examined data on coronavirus-related effects on front-line workers nationwide, including emergency medical staff, nurses, doctors, firefighters and police. They found that, while the data is not uniformly collected or centralized as the authors say it should be, emergency medical staff have a higher risk than other front-line workers of dying from the virus. Their risk of death is three times higher than nurses and five times that of physicians, for example. As a result, significant numbers of emergency services personnel, including those in ambulatory care, emergency rooms and other settings have been retiring or resigning, the authors said.

In New York, donors have started to recognize the severe strain front-line workers are under. The EMS FDNY Help Fund received $462,000 from Verizon to provide meals for front-line staff and another $200,000—double what its board had requested—from the Johnson family and the New York Jets, which they own. “The money was to be used for what our members needed,” Gustafson says, including providing hotel rooms to the family of an emergency medical services worker whose house was destroyed by fire. “A main focus is hardship relief for members, including those who need funeral help for family members who died.”

The fund is now seeking another $100,000 to provide confidential counseling services for its members, teaming up with the New York City Trauma Recovery Network and the National Institute for Psychotherapy to provide up to 10 free sessions of counseling to front-line workers who request it and additional mental health services as needed. “There is a counseling service that’s part of the fire department, but it is not perceived to be confidential, so there is a stigma associated with it,” Gustafson says.

Some money for the new counseling services will come from the John A. Reisenbach Foundation, a New York charity that in December will give the fund a portion of its proceeds from a now-virtual annual fundraising event. Gustafson says she also plans to approach grantmakers like the Robin Hood Foundation, which last year raised nearly $200 million to alleviate poverty in New York’s five boroughs.

Relief cannot come fast enough for emergency medical workers like Anthony Almojera, a veteran New York paramedic who says the pandemic has shown him how dysfunctional the country is when it comes to taking care of its own.

“Healthcare is fragmented, as opposed to other countries that have a national health system,” Almojera says. “You have just seen all the holes in our system and in emergency medicine. You have us doing 7,000 calls a day. We need help. In an ideal society, we would take care of the front-line people; it should be a given. We are a broken country.”

TRN News Item Photo 08 24 20
EMS FDNY Help Fund Partners With NYC Trauma Recovery Network to Provide
Free Confidential Counseling to FDNY-EMS Members

New Partnership Reinforces the Resiliency of NYC’s EMS Safety Net, The EMS FDNY Help Fund

August 24, 2020 -- The EMS FDNY Help Fund, an organization dedicated to financially aiding members of FDNY-EMS, announces today a new partnership with the NYC Trauma Recovery Network (TRN) to provide free trauma therapy to all FDNY-EMS members, who have been intensely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting immediately, FDNY-EMS members who are interested in taking advantage of the counseling services can easily sign up via

“When disaster strikes, we as first responders are on the front lines dealing with the most immediate physical needs of the community; however, our own mental health needs are often neglected,” said Paramedic Lieutenant Anthony Almojera. “It’s critical that FDNY-EMS members have easy access to specialized trauma therapy so that we’re able to continue doing our jobs with the intensity and focus demanded of us.”

As part of the program, TRN is offering FDNY-EMS members six to ten pro-bono confidential counseling sessions with licensed psychotherapists trained in EMDR to address any trauma and stress related symptoms they may be experiencing. Beyond the TRN initial sessions, the EMS FDNY Help Fund will cover the costs of additional mental health services that will be needed by FDNY-EMS in the future via fundraising efforts.

“While COVID-19 cases and deaths have begun decreasing in some areas, rates of anxiety and depression are continuing to rise and the psychological pain of front line workers is likely to continue and even worsen,” said John Manning, EMS FDNY Help Fund Chairman. “We are committed to helping EMS members overcome their mental health issues and are looking forward to partnering with TRN to make this possible.”

TRN, a local team of the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program, provides pro-bono EMDR therapy to first responders and front line medical professionals who have experienced critical incidents. EMDR therapy is widely recognized as one of the most effective and efficient treatments to help people recover from trauma.

"E.M.D.R. can help process and clear upsetting memories, thoughts, and feelings associated with trauma and help to prevent long term PTSD and other issues,” said Linda Kocieniewski, LCSW Coordinator, NY City Trauma Recovery Network. “We are happy to provide our services, which are completely confidential, to the men and women of FDNY-EMS who bravely serve all New Yorkers each and every day.”

The NYC TRN formed after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, when they served first responders, survivors of the attacks, and family members of those who we lost in the attacks. They also served the NYC community after Hurricane Sandy, as well as in other smaller disasters in the NYC area.

The EMS FDNY Help Fund mission is to ensure the security of our Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics and their families in the event of death, injury, illness or hardship. EMS FDNY Help Fund is a 501(c)3 charitable organization and all donations are tax deductible, as allowable under the law. Individuals looking to support our heroes on the frontline can help by donating at


Media Contact: Samantha Tannenbaum, Praytell 917.509.8766 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

EMS FDNY Help Fund supports first responders during financial hardship

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- EMTs, paramedics and other first responders are sometimes overlooked, and now, an organization is looking to make a difference by offering a helping hand in times of need.

Two years ago Saturday, EMT Yadira Arroyo tragically lost her life when a man jumped into her ambulance and ran her over in the Bronx .

In the aftermath of her death, an idea came to life: to establish a fund to help FDNY EMTs, paramedics and their families who are suffering through hard financial times after a catastrophe.

The EMS FDNY Help Fund was created to help those who are battling medical issues, debilitating injuries and even personal tragedies such as house fires.

The FDNY and union officials helped establish the fund about a year and a half ago, already doling out roughly $25,000 to about a dozen first responders and their families.

Victor Potito, an EMS and father of four, has had numerous medical problems stemming from his efforts to help during the 9/11 attack -- everything from a kidney transplant to serious respiratory issues had him on life support just a few months ago.

With so much time off affecting his paycheck and his insurance, it has been an extreme financial hardship for him and his family.

Leaders are hoping to spread awareness about the help fund to raise even more money for people like Potito, including an inaugural EMS FDNY Help Fund Humanitarian Awards Dinner taking place on April 11.

To help spread awareness or to donate, visit