“We are sounding the alarm in the Greenbrier Valley,” says Senator Stephen Baldwin, who leads the Greater Greenbrier COVID Task Force. “In addition to the pandemic, and likely caused by the pressures it creates, we are seeing a troubling rise in suicide and overdose calls.” The task force reports that the local, state and national data all point in the same direction.
Since April 2020, Seneca Health Service’s Greenbrier County office has recognized a significant increase in their crisis call service volume. This increase has steadily grown from April to September by over 140%. They reported that they have received 11 hours of calls in April and 27 in September. The Community Engagement staff, who take these calls, have recognized an increase in mental health issues, depression, fear and hopelessness, as well as substance use concerns.
The Greenbrier County Health Department similarly reports a drastic increase in demand for harm reduction services since the pandemic began. County Health Officer Dr. Bridget Morrison says, “These issues are happening here and across the nation in the wake of COVID. They are happening in children, the elderly and everyone.”
The Greenbrier County 911 Center and the Family Refuge Center also report an increase in domestic violence calls during COVID. Advocates at the Refuge Center remind the community that dometic violence survivors are twice as likely to attempt suicide. Interim co-director Nicole Limerez says, “We want citizens to be aware of that fact so they can check in on survivors. They are particularly vulnerable right now and need our support.”
Crisis calls across the state are increasing also. According to WVDHHR, EMS responses to suspected overdoses nearly doubled in March. EMS agencies across the state assisted 1,068 people in March. Over the previous six months, EMS agencies received an average of approximately 500 calls per month. Emergency rooms visits related to overdose also rose 20% in March and have remained steady ever since.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, overdoses in West Virginia rose by 10% the first three months of 2020. Combining that data with the emergency room overdoses visit data, for example, leads to the inevitable conclusion that the overdose rate will only rise as the data for the last six months comes available.
The Greater Greenbrier COVID Task Force assembled a resource guide earlier this year when the numbers began to rise.
“We knew we had a serious problem before the pandemic, which would only get worse. We knew we needed to make sure folks knew where to turn for help,” said Delegate Cindy Lavender-Bowe, who helped put the resource guide together. “Lisa Snedegar with the Family Resource Network always has an excellent local resource guide available for families, but folks needed to know what services are still available despite the pandemic.”
The resource guide can be found at www.RoncevertePres.org or via Facebook on the pages of Delegate Cindy Lavender-Bowe or Senator Stephen Baldwin. If you would like a hard copy or an e-copy, please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org. It contains information related to available help with substance abuse, food, health care and more.
Dr. Morrison says we all play an important role in responding to these situations.
“Check in on your neighbors. Everyone can do that, and everyone needs to be doing that right now,” Morrison said.