Governor Hochul Announces Partnership with Puerto Rico to Boost Mental Health Services

November 5, 2021

From the office of Governor Hochul

Partnership Will Establish a Network of Disaster Mental Health Professionals Across New York and Puerto Rico Through a Collaborative Training Project 

3-Credit Graduate Course will be Offered by SUNY New Paltz to be Held at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus 

Course will be Offered Over the 2021-2022 Winter Break and During Summer 2022 

During a tour of Concilio de Salud Integral de Loiza in Loiza, Puerto Rico, Governor Kathy Hochul today announced a partnership among the New York State Governor's Office, CUNY, SUNY, the Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz and the University of Puerto Rico which will establish a network of disaster mental health professionals across New York and Puerto Rico through a collaborative training project. By providing joint disaster mental health training and field experience to forty graduate students, the project will help prepare the next generation of disaster mental health professionals in both New York and Puerto Rico. The combined training experience will also create professional relationships among disaster mental health responders in New York and Puerto Rico that will strengthen future disaster response initiatives. 

"The rapid onset of COVID-19 combined with increased instance of natural disasters prove just how important it is to be prepared for unprecedented circumstances," Governor Hochul said. "In particular these experiences have shone a bright light on the importance of mental wellness and I'm proud to launch this partnership with Puerto Rico to boost mental health resources. Having trained professionals waiting in the wings will prove invaluable in the event of future disasters." 

A 3-credit graduate course entitled Disaster Mental Health Field Experience will be offered by SUNY New Paltz, to be held at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus. The course will be taught by Dr. Amy Nitza, Director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz and will include: 

  • 5 students from the SUNY New Paltz Counselor Education and/or Advanced Certificate in Trauma and Disaster Mental Health programs 
  • 5 CUNY graduate students in Counseling 
  • 10 students from the Rehabilitation Counseling program at the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras 

During this two-week course, students will receive training in disaster mental health theory and practice and the history and current sociopolitical context of Puerto Rico, and then gain practical experience providing training in Psychological First Aid to community based organizations throughout Puerto Rico. Through the program, students will also earn a badge/microcredential in Mental Health and Psychosocial Support. 

The course will be offered twice: once over the 2021-2022 winter break, and once during Summer 2022. 

Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said, "New York State has had a long, special relationship with Puerto Rico. We share so many common bonds, and this collaborative training program will prepare the next generation of professional mental health counselors as they assist survivors of disasters and provide support in times of great need. I applaud Governor Hochul and SUNY New Paltz for this forward thinking project."  

Assemblymember Deborah Glick said, "With global warming increasing the likelihood of severe weather events including hurricanes, tornados, and flooding, preparedness for these occurrences has been shown to be a necessity. The pandemic has brought a deeper understanding of the need for mental health supports in emergency situations. I applaud Governor Hochul, SUNY New Paltz, and the University of Puerto Rico for their foresight and their commitment to work together guaranteeing New Yorkers can count on disaster medical health support. Planning for this is a crucial first step in ensuring access to all who will need it in the future." 

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said, "Often when natural disasters strike, we think of the work we do to rebuild infrastructure—and not about the work to rebuild the people who have endured the trauma. This new partnership of mental health between SUNY New Paltz and Puerto Rico will act as a framework not just for healing old wounds from past disasters, but also for providing a network of recovery and regrowth during future disaster response. SUNY is proud to be part of this collaboration, and I thank Governor Hochul for her support, as well as the experts within SUNY and the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras for championing this effort."

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez said, "As we continue to deal with the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased prevalence of weather-associated natural disasters, we see an urgent need for specialized mental health professionals who are available to support to those impacted. This partnership, which will create a pipeline of prepared mental health professionals in New York and Puerto Rico, draws on CUNY's record of assisting distressed communities in New York and beyond. We thank Governor Hochul and our partners for their work in ensuring that we can better respond to future disasters and aid those in need."

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students in credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2021, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit suny.edu.


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