During a golf outing a few weeks ago, Patrick Downes began chatting with a friend about what it might be like as an amputee to raise a child. Downes, who lost part of his left leg in the Boston Marathon bombings, pictured waking in the middle of the night to comfort a crying son or daughter from a wheelchair, or watching the child scurry into the street faster than a prosthetic would allow a father to run.
He found comfort in broaching the subject with a fellow bombing victim.
“We talk about these rich things, but we’re just goofing around on a golf course,” Downes said in an interview. “I want to make it very real for people, so that they can have the opportunity to get together and really heal as a group.”
If all goes according to plan, they will soon have such a place. Beginning in August, victims of the Boston Marathon bombings will be able to find mental health, behavioral, and psychological services inside a centralized location at Boston Medical Center, state and federal officials announced Tuesday.
READ MORE: Coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing
Backed by $1.9 million in federal grants, the Massachusetts Resiliency Center will serve as a gathering place where bombing survivors can seek assistance and care, and meet in a central location, free of charge. Victims spanning more than 30 states and five countries will have the chance to receive electronic consultations aimed at finding services and providers in their communities.
While the attacks left three dead and more than 260 seeking treatment in hospitals, hundreds more experienced trauma beyond the physical realm — post-traumatic stress, hearing loss, and difficulty readjusting, public health officials said.
“Folks are asking the question, ‘Well, should we see someone?’ ” said Kermit Crawford, a clinical psychologist who serves as director of the Center for Multicultural Mental Health at Boston Medical Center. “It’s kind of early. It’s going to be a while before we begin to really understand the long-term psychological, emotional, physical, behavioral impact.”
The center will be paid for with grant money administered by the US Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, and operations will be overseen by the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance. The Boston Medical Center location is temporary; a permanent site will be determined by an advisory board consisting of victims, and headed by Downes, later this year.
Officials said they hope the center will adapt over time as the needs of bombing victims evolve. Crawford pointed to the psychological and emotional trauma that might arise as bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev goes to trial. The Back Bay blaze that killed two firefighters in March left some emergency workers feeling the creeping stress of the bombings, he said. After disasters happen, he said “There’s a period when that neighbor you never liked and who never liked you is waving, and you’re looking back.”
“Then when that same neighbor stops waving at you and you stop liking each other again, that will be the period of disillusionment,” Crawford said. “Then, at some point, you hit the bottom.”
Care at the Resilience Center will be available to injured victims and their family members, emergency workers, veterans, and members of the military, and anyone directly or indirectly affected by the bombings and the events that followed.
“It doesn’t have to be a formal therapeutic group setting,” said Liam Lowney, executive director of the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance. “Survivors like to be together and have shared experiences. That offers resilience to them.”
Lowney said some survivors continue to have trouble sleeping, working, and paying rent. Recovery, he said, is not guaranteed to come with the passage of time.
“We certainly knew there was a broader community of people who had never been to a hospital, or suffered hearing loss, or people who had witnessed it but never been to a hospital,” Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is running for governor of Massachusetts, said in an interview.
The Massachusetts center is the first of its kind.
“My hope is that we can develop something so meaningful and so real, that another city, if they go through something similar some day, they can call us and say ‘Can you help us out?’ ” Downes said.