Trahan, Garry promote mental health services for emergency workers

WESTMINSTER — On-Site Academy, a facility providing critical mental health services to emergency workers after traumatic experiences, has received $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding from the state to support its services.

Congresswoman Lori Trahan, D-3rd, and state Rep. Colleen Garry, D-Dracut, visited the facility last week, where they met with the family of Alan Matthews, a Dracut resident and nurse anesthetist who died by suicide last year.

“I am very grateful for the bravery of Alan’s family in sharing their story to help prevent other families from going through the tragic loss of a loved one who was a hero in the health field,” Garry said. “I am appreciative of the support of my colleagues in the Legislature and the governor in supporting this ARPA bill funding.

“A special thank you to Congresswoman Trahan for her care, concern and kindness shown to the Matthews family,” Garry continued. “Her understanding of the tremendous need for this program for our health care heroes is so valuable to the continuation of this remarkable program which is literally saving lives with the leadership of Dr. (Hayden) Duggan and the On-Site staff.”

On-Site Academy, founded in 1991, is solely dedicated to providing critical incident stress management to emergency personnel and veterans. The facility is one of the first of its kind, and seeks to address the impact that emergency work has on health workers, first responders and other personnel.

According to the organization, emergency workers face higher rates of heart disease, substance abuse, divorce, depression and suicide due to the stressful nature of their jobs, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Especially during this stressful period, it is crucial to support our first responders, nurses, and law enforcement personnel in staying as healthy as possible both physically and emotionally given the traumas to which they are exposed daily,” said Duggan, On-Site’s president and founder. “Nurses have been on the front line, shift after shift, day after day, often acting in the place of family members who in some cases were not able to even say good-by to their loved ones, rendering the most intensive medical interventions and being there through recovery or to hold the hands of their patients till the end.

“It has taken a tremendous emotional toll,” he continued. “Everything we can do to help them in their own journey to recovery should be done as quickly as possible.”

Trahan and Garry were joined by Caroljean “CJ” Matthews, Alan Matthews’ widow, and their daughters, Kerry and Emily.

Alan Matthews worked for 30 years as a nurse anesthetist and spent most of his time on intensive care unit floors performing intubations on critical COVID-19-positive patients during the pandemic. Before the pandemic began, he had suffered from migraines after a 2014 car accident, and the stress of his job significantly worsened the pain.

In July 2021, Matthews went on medical leave to seek help, but two weeks later, he died by suicide. Since then, his family has advocated for mental health services for emergency workers.

“I can’t imagine the pain of families like the Matthews who have lost a loved one to suicide because our mental health response isn’t what it needs to be. No emergency worker should be forced to bear the weight of the stress and trauma of their jobs alone,” said Trahan. “We owe it to CJ, Kerry and Emily, as well as every other family of emergency workers, to make substantial investments at every level in organizations like On-Site Academy.”

Matthews’ family expressed gratitude for the funding to On-Site, which will be used to expand services including peer-to-peer counseling, a residential program, the Widows/Widowers in Need of Grief Services program and nonresidential treatment plans for families.

“When people reach out for help, it should not be this difficult or impossible to find,” CJ Matthews said. “I am so very grateful for Colleen Garry, Lori Trahan and Dr. Duggan and his staff for their dedication, care and commitment in helping first responders. The creation of a medical On-Site to help others in the medical profession would continue Alan‘s life work of helping people and could save somebody’s life, preventing their family from going through what we are going through.”

Kerry Matthews agreed with her mother, talking about the pain they had experienced.

“No child should have to go through the loss of a parent due to work-related stress,” she said. “With a program specifically for medical professionals, who are truly heroes, hopefully we can help others in my dad‘s memory.”

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