Healing Takes Time

Healing Takes Time

El Paso’s resilience tested but strong after rough year

Article courtesy of El Paso Inc.

By Sara Sanchez / El Paso Inc. Staff Writer – Aug. 2 2020

For most El Pasoans, there isn’t a specific time on the clock when we knew our community had irreversibly changed.

We just knew what it felt like right before we found out what happened on Aug. 3, and how everything felt afterward.

At University Medical Center, it was 10:39 a.m. That’s when 911 was activated. For Dr. Alan Tyroch, who was on a plane when he saw that first text, the time was 10:53.

Tyroch, chief of surgery and trauma medical director at UMC, and chair of surgery at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso, said the past year has been challenging for the campus but that staff has done a good job at moving forward while still remembering the 23 individuals who were killed.

From left: Dr. Alan Tyroch, Dr. Susan McLean, Dr. Alejandro Rios Tovar and Esai Barrios were among those in UMC’s emergency department on Aug. 3. - Photo by Jorge Salgado Jorge Salg
From left: Dr. Alan Tyroch, Dr. Susan McLean, Dr. Alejandro Rios Tovar and Esai Barrios were among those in UMC’s emergency department on Aug. 3. – Photo by Jorge Salgado

He said staff and hospital personnel have gone through hours of debriefings on stress, anxiety and PTSD related to the trauma of that day.

“I tell people you can win a football game, but when you go back on Monday and look at the tape, there are always things you can do better,” Tyroch said.

In the past year, El Paso’s resilience has been tested repeatedly, sometimes for events not even related to the Aug. 3 shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart, where a lone gunman went on a racially motivated shooting spree that killed 23 and wounded dozens.

Health experts say healing from trauma is not linear, and there is no set timeline. That is especially true this year during a health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – when time itself feels as if it’s been stretched, warped or compressed.

“One thing about El Paso is that we wrap our arms around each other and are very resilient, and we need to continue to do that as we go through this anniversary and beyond,” said Kristi Daugherty, CEO of Emergence Health Network.

Anniversary events can sometimes be a trigger for those recovering from trauma, and experts want the community to be aware of that as El Paso reflects on what happened a year ago.

“Where someone was in their recovery process a couple months ago could look very different now that we’re coming up on the one-year mark,” said Christina Lamour, vice president of community impact at United Way of El Paso County. “It can re-traumatize and set people back a little bit.”

Two centers were set up after Aug. 3 that help individuals navigate through the available resources and to receive those services.

The El Paso United Family Resiliency Center was officially launched at the end of 2019 and currently connects about 99 individuals to referrals for services like financial and behavioral counseling.

The Family Resiliency Center, 6314 Delta, is operated by United Way and grant-funded through the Victims of Crime Act. It provides support to individuals in the region who were impacted by the Aug. 3 mass shooting.

Lamour said about a quarter of referrals the center makes are for behavioral or mental health services, and about 47% of referrals are for legal assistance.

“That was mostly due to the fact that a lot of individuals we work with received some type of distribution from the One Fund, and they had a lot of questions. Some had issues applying or receiving that assistance,” Lamour said.

The FRC also refers individuals for non-traditional therapies, including things like movement-based treatment.

Emergence Health Network also opened a healing center for individuals dealing with the fallout from Aug. 3. Daugherty said the center is working with about 100 individuals seeking behavioral and mental health services related to Aug. 3.

Emergence also operates a 24/7 crisis hotline, not just related to Aug. 3, at 915-779-1800.

El Paso’s efforts to heal have been shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, widespread closures, economic downturn and adjustments for things like social distancing and mask-wearing.

Daugherty said the crisis response teams at Emergence have seen an uptick in individuals who have not previously interacted with the system.

“We’re noticing that the folks that are coming into our crisis services are individuals that are unestablished, or people not currently receiving services from us,” Daugherty said.

Isolation can also magnify things like anxiety and depression, and Daugherty said it’s good to continue checking in on and communicating with loved ones.

Both centers have also had to recalculate how their services are delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic and are using resources like calls and video meetings to stay connected with patients.

“Our message to the community is that it’s OK to ask for help,” Daugherty said. “Feeling is OK, and having the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, those feelings are natural, and we want people to know that and talk to someone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a mental health professional.”

Over the weekend and on Monday, there will be plenty of opportunities to remember and reflect, and there will be rehashing of what happened that day. More information about the events can be found in The B Section on page 11B.

With social distancing still in effect, it’s unlikely there can be any large gatherings like the one held at the Downtown ballpark in 2019. But there are still places for smaller reflections, even if it’s alone.

Tyroch said he hopes the anniversary and conversations it sparks remember not just the 23 killed but also their family members and those who were injured on that day.

He added that the reflection is also part of the healing, no matter where it takes place.

“I personally want to keep it personal,” Tyroch said. “I spent so much time during interviews… for all I know, I might be in the operating room at that time. It may just pass me by, I don’t know.”