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Bigbypic2 By Dr. JudyAnn Bigby

On June 1, Massachusetts experienced an extraordinary event that left some people in the Commonwealth in tragic situations.  The tornadoes that ripped through Western and Central Massachusetts left some families facing the deaths of loved ones, hundreds of people homeless, and some communities without their local town hall, church, or school.  My thoughts are with all of the families who have been impacted by the tornadoes. 

Shortly after we learned about the tornadoes, we in state government began to mobilize agencies to respond to the diverse needs of the impacted communities.  Governor Patrick requested that all state agencies coordinate their efforts to establish emergency response centers. Within two days, three centers were opened in Springfield, Palmer, and Southbridge — with representatives from the Executive Offices of Health and Human Services, Labor and Workforce Development, and Housing and Economic Development, all co-located in space provided by Health and Human Services. 

Last week, I visited all of the response centers and am both proud and awed by the effort that so many staff from several Secretariats have put forward in response to the needs of individuals in need of assistance; I am grateful for their willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty. 

Staff from multiple health and human service agencies came from as far away as New Bedford and Cambridge to the centers, to help hundreds of people. Counselors from the Department of Mental Health (DMH) have been on site at the centers and nearby shelters to provide counseling.  At the Monson Developmental Center (MDC), staff have been taking bags of clothing that tornado victims have recovered from their homes, sorting through clothes to remove glass and other debris, then washing and folding the laundry for families to pick up. MDC has also offered temporary space for the Red Cross to set up a shelter if necessary, identified space for extended temporary housing and provided families with access to showers within the facility.

Similarly, staff from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) have ensured that tornado victims receive replacement Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that they lost as a result of the tornados and have been taking questions from families in need, to which agency staff are in the process of responding. These are just a few examples of how staff have pulled together to help out. 

During my visit to the Monson Developmental Center, one of the laundry workers was in near tears as she described her attempt to get a stain out of a child's dress.  When the child's mother came to pick up the clean laundry, the mother did cry when she saw that her daughter's favorite dress was clean and that she would be able to wear it again.  Another DMH worker described how she spent an hour counseling a young man about how to get through the trauma of needing to rebuild his life and how he left with hope for the future.

There are many more people who are part of this impressive collective effort to respond to the impact of the tornadoes; I’m truly inspired by, and grateful to, all who have contributed to the enormous task of recovery and rebuilding. 


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