Mather Hospital AVP of Behavioral Health Denise Driscoll teamed up with the Comsewogue Public Library for a study on improving stigmatic perceptions by library personnel of individuals with mental illness and substance abuse issues. They were one of five teams chosen across New York State by the New York Library Association’s Change Agent program.

“The overall outcome was a sustainable change in the way patrons with mental illness and substance abuse were treated and assisted within the public library,” said Ms. Driscoll, one of the authors of the study that was published in the journal Public Health Nursing in month/year. “The library staff expressed to us that they now possessed a greater realization that they are not alone and have a community of experts who they could partner with and obtain support (I don’t understand this quote).”

According to the study, public libraries often serve as safe havens for individuals, including those with mental illness and who are homeless, who often must leave community shelters during the day. Those individuals also use libraries to escape extreme weather conditions and to seek information.

Library staff were educated by the Response Crisis Center of Suffolk County and the Long Island Council On Alcoholism and Drug Dependence on topics such as crisis intervention, suicide prevention, general assumptions and philosophy regarding human behavior, engaging with individuals, building trust, problem solving, compassion fatigue and self-care.

“It broadened the horizon of health care to look at the library as a perfect partner to address population health issues, in particular mental illness and substance abuse,” Ms. Driscoll said. “At a local level it assisted the library staff in our community to learn empathy, trauma, de-escalation and the importance of the human connection with their patrons who have mental illness or substance abuse.”

“Public libraries are community centers and open to all, so it makes great sense for them to partner with community hospitals toward improving the knowledge of public-facing staff and, thereby, the health of the local population,” said Debra Engelhardt, MLS, director of the Comsewogue Public Library and a co-author of the study. “Comsewogue Public Library’s staff is better equipped, and the library’s members and visitors better served, as a result of the work we did with Mather’s Behavioral Health staff. The Library welcomes future opportunities to engage with Mather toward building healthier communities.”

The study has been disseminated through various venues including the American Nurses Association – New York, NYU Langone, Northwell Nursing Research and the Medical Librarian Association of Long Island. Because of the team’s work, local nursing and social work schools are now doing Population Health Rotations in local libraries, Driscoll said.

The study’s other co-authors were Judith Moran-Peters, DNSc, RN, NE-BC, RN-BC, Nursing research coordinator; Sarah Eckardt, Nursing statistician; and Lilly Matthew, PhD, RN, Associate Professor of Nursing Informatics, CUNY School of Professional Studies Nursing Program.