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Press Release

IRC joins #FirstRespondersFirst initiative to help humanitarian staff manage the psychological toll of responding to COVID-19 on the frontlines

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:

  • Remote microlearning modules, including Psychological First Aid that will help staff feel confident and competent in their work while providing them with the skills to support clients’ emotional well-being and coping.
  • Facilitated learning circles that will provide staff with dedicated professional development time to debrief and discuss successes and challenges in putting new skills into practice.
  • Self-care support groups for frontline staff that will address the psychosocial impacts of frontline work, increasing knowledge of effective self-care strategies, and building supportive networks to foster resilience.
  • Increased access to interpretation services that will help reduce the immense burden created by remote service provision.

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.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.

About #FirstRespondersFirst

#FirstRespondersFirst, an initiative of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Thrive Global, and the CAA Foundation, takes a whole human approach to addressing the needs of frontline workers in order to support their ability to serve on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.  #FirstRespondersFirst’s fundraising call to action helps provide essential supplies, protective equipment, accommodations, child care, food, and critical mental health support and resources to this demographically and socially diverse workforce, ranging from minimum-wage hourly workers in home-care settings to social workers, nurses, physicians, and beyond, through its implementing collaborators Americares, Bright Horizons, CORE Response, Direct Relief, Give An Hour, Global Health Corps, Hispanic Federation, IHG Hotels & Resorts, InnerHour, International Rescue Committee, Marriott International, National Black Nurses Association, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Omada Health, Osmosis, Pivot, The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, World Central Kitchen, and You Okay, Doc?. Through strategic partnerships with Johnson & Johnson, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation, #FirstRespondersFirst equips first responders with the tools and resources needed to build their resilience and promote positive mental health while also advocating for change at the institutional level in order to ensure organizations prioritize workforce well-being. Powered by Thrive Global's behavior change platform, #FirstRespondersFirst also provides access to Harvard Chan School’s evidence-based content, specifically tailored to this critical workforce, to help improve the physical and mental well-being of healthcare workers.