Tazewell County Health Department
Building a Responsive Community: Healing after a Disaster
Tazewell County is a central Illinois community which combines city assets with the serene beauty and quiet countryside of rural living. It is located on the Illinois River adjacent to Peoria and has an estimated population of 136,352. There are approximately 8,190 children between the ages of birth to five. The largest community in Tazewell County is Pekin, the County seat, with a population of more than 34,000. Tazewell County offers something for everyone, with a strong commitment of maintaining a high quality of life and friendly communities. Tazewell County provides a hometown feel in the middle of a growing, progressive region with a strong employment base and plenty of amenities to complement the rural landscape. Individuals can enjoy the services and benefits of traditional urban services and the peaceful, quiet countryside of rural life.
In 2012, the Tazewell All Our Kids (AOK) Network finished a yearlong community assessment and identified mental health as a priority for the Network to focus on, unknowing that soon this focus would have much more importance than they ever expected.. The Network leadership provided opportunities for providers to be part of meaningful conversations to get more information about the needs for mental health services in the County. Many deep conversations occurred about how families have many stressors in their lives and are coping with mental health issues in their families with limited resources. A Mental Health Workgroup was developed to begin work on gathering more information about services available that support mental health for a Resource Directory. Each workgroup member was assigned specific mental health agencies to learn more about and document. The Workgroup met monthly until a complete listing was developed of providers, services & eligibility criteria. This listing was finalized in October 2013 and sent for printing.
On November 17, 2013, Tazewell County communities East Peoria, Pekin & Washington were destroyed by a devastating tornado. More than 100 houses were damaged in Pekin and 40 in East Peoria. Although both East Peoria & Pekin both had damaged areas, the City of Washington was the most devastated area. A total of 1,000 houses were damaged with 500 of those being completely destroyed. Needless to say, these communities were in shock. People started to gather together to help those affected with physical needs, ensuring the safety of the people and relocating families, while goods and services began flooding into the area.
After a few weeks of taking care of physical needs, emotional needs began surfacing even more. Some families whose houses were still standing or were not affected by the storms at all started experiencing “survivor guilt”. The community was overwhelmed and exhausted both mentally and physically. Trauma isn’t always what you think about first when a devastating event occurs. Sometimes the effects of trauma do not set in for weeks, months and even years. However, in these communities signs of trauma started to surface.
As disaster aid organizations came to assist these communities there became a great need for information on mental health services and supports. The Tazewell AOK Mental Health Resource Directory became available as a greatly needed resource. The Coordinator was contacted by a local pastor and member of the Tazewell County AOK who was also a member of the Spiritual & Emotional Care group for the tornado recovery efforts. AOK also received a call from Illinois Department of Human Services Emergency Management specialist working directly with the Disaster Command Center. The AOK Mental Health Resource Directory was distributed to groups working with victims of the tornado, and other community organizations such as social services, education, law enforcement, etc via email. It became a widely requested resource. What started as an effort to document resources to support families around mental health issues became a timely needed resource for disaster recovery and healing for Tazewell County.
What resources are necessary to replicate this approach?
- Café conversations
- Collaborative effort
- Network and work group commitments
- Community mapping and research on resources
- Review of information by workgroup and Network members
- Develop a format to record information
- Develop official booklet/directory
- Acquiring resources to print and distribute directory
- Community partnerships and methods of distributing materials
- Make resource available both electronically and paper copies
- Publicize resource through social media, press releases, etc.