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CHS Mental Health Professionals Volunteer in Puerto Rico

February 13th, 2020
CHS employees volunteer in Puerto Rico

When the call came for volunteers to help residents of Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes that continue to shake the island nation, two mental health professionals from Catholic Health Services (CHS) quickly raised their hands.

Yamith Soacha and Karen Camargo were among a team assembled by the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA) and sent to Puerto Rico to provide mental health services. Strong earthquakes along the island’s southern coast caused extensive property damage and aftershocks continue.

Soacha, a resident of Ronkonkoma, is a clinical social worker for CHS’s Good Shepherd Hospice. Camargo, a Farmingdale resident, is a licensed master’s social worker at CHS’s Mercy Medical Center. They were in Puerto Rico from February 3 to February 10 as part of the GNYHA team.

During their time in Puerto Rico, Soacha and Camargo visited several communities including Guyanilla, Guanica and Ponce where they spoke with residents and provided information about available services. They listened to locals and provided mental health tips to help earthquake survivors cope with the difficult situation they face.

“There are many people who are afraid to be in their homes,” said Soacha. “They are unsure when the next earthquake will happen, how strong it will be and if their house will collapse with them inside.”

As families work to repair the homes, the damage caused by the earthquakes is having a major impact on local children. Damaged schools have been closed for more than a month and many students are now with their families living in tents at recovery camps.

“With schools destroyed it has led to feelings of anxiety and depression among many students,” Camargo said.

Soacha and Camargo felt compelled to volunteer after seeing the struggles Puerto Rico residents have had in recovering from natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

“As someone who is Hispanic I felt obligated to help,” Soacha explained. “It was also a chance as a human being to step up and provide assistance to those in need.”

Camargo added, “As an educated Hispanic woman born and raised in the United States, I felt it was my duty to assist the communities in need in Puerto Rico. The people have been very receptive to the services provided, which drives my passion to continue helping even with our trip now over.”

Photo caption: From left; Yamith Soacha and Karen Camargo.