Institution C.O.V.E.R. leads Amber Hewitt of SCI Rockview, Dana Benn of SCI Laurel Highland, Berney Ortiz of SCI Camp Hill, and agency C.O.V.E.R. lead Deb Sahd were invited to present at the PA Developmental Disabilities Council's 2020 PA Community Alliance Summit, which was a three-day statewide virtual event. C.O.V.E.R. was selected following a submission outlining the vision and implementation of this peer led effort supported by the agency as a whole and specifically the work of these three institutions and their staff. The C.O.V.E.R. team presented to approximately 75 organizations consisting of community providers, state agencies and universities on Oct. 5 to share the peer support efforts developed by and for corrections staff.
This first virtually-held summit provided the opportunity for Sahd to give an overview of how C.O.V.E.R. was created and the vision and work of the teams which are at each facility to support all staff in a variety of ways.
Hewitt shared the diverse and creative efforts at Rockview making it a vibrant and interactive chapter. The concept "no one stands alone" is the driving force behind Rockview C.O.V.E.R. This concept can be easily observed with the confidential C.O.V.E.R. communication boxes, C.O.V.E.R. resource shelves, the consistent outpouring of resources and support via email and in person, unique methods of outreach to staff, personalized cards and recognition, C.O.V.E.R. apparel, and personal engagements with staff. Rockview has created a family out of C.O.V.E.R. and is thriving with support from staff across the institution from nearly every department.
SCI Laurel Highlands
Benn shared the specific program created at Laurel Highlands to support staff in a multitude of ways. The highlight of the SCI Laurel Highlands C.O.V.E.R. program is the 10-session peer support group.
The purpose of the group is to enhance the ability of staff to eliminate suicide ideation or intent and reduce the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. The group is designed as a preventative measure. It is three-fold in its approach.
First, it identifies and describes the symptoms and effects of PTSD. Participants discuss, in detail, how corrections differs from traditional post-traumatic stress in that employees are exposed to stress on a continual basis, making the exposure to stress a prolonged issue. Once participants have developed an understanding of post-traumatic stress and how it can develop into a disorder, they move into learning skills for dealing with the stress, in order to avoid the acute PTSD. Finally, they discuss and develop techniques to provide relaxation and balance each day, such as meditation and deep breathing.
Groups have been very successful thus far, allowing participants to see marked reduction in stress, build cohesive bonds with co-workers and develop a support system of trusted colleagues, who understand issues that affect us all.
As soon as they are able, participants will be moving into the development of the next phase, which is the recovery group. This group will be a less structured group and will be held mainly for the purpose of continued support and discussion of new issues that may arise. It, like the initial C.O.V.E.R. group, is voluntary in nature. Participants of the group will be able to determine how often they feel would be beneficial to meet. Options for weekly, bi-weekly or monthly groups will be presented to the group.
Further groups will include spousal/family support groups, so that the families of corrections professionals are included in the support system of the individual. It is difficult in corrections for families to understand the demands and effects of this job. This group seeks to change that, and hopefully, to allow families to understand and share in the resolution of issues.
SCI Camp Hill
Ortiz shared an overview of the work at Camp Hill where monthly mental health newsletters are shared to combat stressors both personal and professional. C.O.V.E.R. is also an outlet for staff members to discuss stressors and receive information on professional and community related resources. Charity drives are conducted to help bring together staff members and the community. A food sale has been done to help boost morale and make money for future events and or staff needs.
The DOC C.O.V.E.R. team joined representatives from the Cumberland County Adult Probation and Parole and PLEA – A COMPEER Coalition Program to discuss "Criminal Justice System and Peer-to-Peer Mentoring." It was a great opportunity for the DOC to feature its C.O.V.E.R. program in a statewide event.
The team was very proud and honored to be asked to join with other community organizations to co-present and share their passion to support staff in addressing the known stressors to include PTSD, depression and fatigue.