Today the International Rescue Committee announced a partnership with #FirstRespondersFirst, an initiative of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Thrive Global, CAA Foundation, and strategic partner Johnson & Johnson, that supports healthcare workers and first responders on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. With support from the initiative, the IRC will build upon and expand its long-term investment in the mental health, professional development, and well-being of frontline staff who work directly with IRC’s clients and their communities.

While support for COVID-19 responders has been focused on medical professionals, IRC will bring much needed support to the “forgotten frontline worker” – caseworkers, mental health specialists, food security specialists, and other staff that are critical to IRC’s comprehensive response to COVID-19. The initiative will empower staff to provide essential services beyond health, such as accompanying clients to medical appointments, food distribution, child and maternal health services, and much more.  The IRC’s response to the pandemic is grounded in decades of experience in managing complex health emergencies and outbreaks, with a firm understanding that building the resilience of frontline staff directly translates to building the resilience of IRC’s clients, helping them rebuild their lives after experiencing the trauma of displacement.

Support from #FirstRespondersFirst will allow the IRC to expand its resources for staff around four areas:

Beth Farmer, IRC’s Director of Safety, Education, and Wellness said: “We know that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting people of color, including refugees and immigrants. IRC staff are struggling with the pervasive trauma of helping families who are ill, have lost jobs, may not have enough food, and too often have lost loved ones. Because so many of our staff are from the communities they serve, they are often the first person that clients turn to in a crisis. The more we can support our frontline staff with the tools and services they need, the better we will be able to serve our clients and their families, and that’s why we’re thrilled to join the #FirstRespondersFirst initiative as an implementing collaborator.”

In response to news of the initiative, an IRC frontline staff member (name kept anonymous for security) who will take part in the program stated, “I hope to connect with people who truly understand the stressors that I have been experiencing at work during the pandemic and work-from-home situation, and to learn more about how others are practicing self-care so that I may adopt some of those practices for myself. I also hope to share my own self-care practices with other people so that they may benefit from my practices as well.”

"We are delighted to be partnering with IRC to support the invaluable work that their frontline workers are doing," said Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive Global. “So many of these workers are sacrificing their own mental health and well-being to care for the most vulnerable. And #FirstRespondersFirst and IRC understand that to care for others and truly have an impact, they need support. Together, we’re committed to providing them with resources that build confidence, promote self-care and strengthen their resilience during this pandemic and beyond."

Supported services from the #FirstRespondersFirst initiative will be implemented through the IRC’s COVID-19 response in the United States, where the IRC resettles an average of 10,000 refugees per year.  The IRC continues to respond when coronavirus strikes among communities where we work while prioritizing staff’s own physical and mental health to keep our clients safe and secure.