FIG1 Soon after the terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2001, APA member Erminia Scarcella, M.D., began
wondering how she could best help members of the international community
during times of disaster.
Erminia Scarcella, M.D., launched the initiative to match WPS members
with embassies in Washington, D.C.
As chair of the District of Columbia Chapter of the Washington Psychiatric
Society (WPS), she considered the talents of the many WPS members from other
countries practicing in the Washington, D.C., area, as well as her own status
as an international medical graduate from Italy.
"WPS members have taken an active role in preparing themselves to
serve our community should disaster—either manmade or
natural—strike our region," she told Psychiatric
She noted that Washington, D.C., was home to "a large contingent of
foreign nationals" who represent more than 180 countries through the
In an effort to serve the vast number of D.C.-area residents from other
countries who might be experiencing distress related to a disaster either in
D.C. or overseas, Scarcella decided to match WPS members with the embassy of
their respective countries.
The psychiatrists would be available to offer their services to local
residents who contact the embassy for any number of reasons during times of
disaster, as well as to embassy personnel and their families, Scarcella
So far, 12 embassies have signed on to participate in what has become known
as the WPS Embassy Project, said Scarcella, and psychiatrists have volunteered
to work with 10 of them. The 12 are the embassies of Egypt, France, Germany,
Israel, Italy, Romania, South Africa, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Poland, the Czech
Republic, and the Apostolic Nunciature, or the Vatican.
The project is still in its nascent stage, Scarcella said, and she is
hoping to add to the number of embassies participating.
Anthony Ng, M.D., chair of APA's Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of
Disaster, said the WPS Embassy Project "provides a bridge between APA
and a number of international partners during times of disaster."
Ng helped to lead a workshop in early December for the psychiatrists who
volunteered to participate in the WPS Embassy Project, he noted. He discussed
a number of topics, such as assessing the need for mental health services
during a disaster and providing mental health "first aid" to
victims in the aftermath of a disaster.
"As we make connections with embassies," he said, "we can
convey to them the value of a mental health component in addressing medical
emergencies generated by a disaster."
Scarcella pointed out that "embassies are an important reference
point for foreign-born residents of the United States," who contact
their embassy "when they need help, because they know someone there will
speak their language and understand them."
More information about the WPS Embassy Project is available by
contacting WPS Executive Director Walter Hill at
or Erminia Scarcella, M.D., at
WPS members interested in participating should contact Hill or Scarcella as