by Mike Weiss
“I wasn’t even supposed to be there. I was on hiatus up in Albany at Governor Pataki’s office trying to get funding for breast cancer research. So when I got the call I said I wasn’t going to respond to this,” said Minna Barrett. “Lucky for me on the way home I went through the tunnel, and ran into the deployment center right there.”
At 9/11 Barrett worked for the Red Cross, serving as the night coordinator for the at first 750 mental health workers who were deployed in the first week, a number which would soon swell to 1,500-2,000. Her workers were there at Ground Zero around the clock, at every rescue.
“We had workers falling and tripping over dead bodies at the deployment scene. Bodies with eyes popped out, heads off, arms. We had people who experienced bodies cut in half, heads lopped off and hundreds and hundreds of people falling. One construction worker picked up a steel girder and there was a body twisted up inside the girder.”
When not on duty with the Red Cross, Barrett works as a psychology professor at the SUNY Old Westbury campus. Soon after 9/11 she helped set up the WTC Family Center, a counseling resource for WTC responders, survivors and family members as an adjunct to the South Nassau Communities Hospital. The center works out of a storefront in Baldwin, Long Island.
It was for this work that she won the Sarah Haley Memorial Award from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, presented to her in Toronto in 2005.
“There were thousands of people effected,” Barrett said of 9/11. “It took them eight and a half months to close the place. No one knows how many people worked the site. They estimate somewhere between 45,000, 50,000 to 125,000 people worked that scene.”
Nearly seven years later, Barrett is still seeing new patients coming into her center for the first time. She knows full well the different faces of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with its depression, substance abuse and anxieties. She’s also gotten angrier listening to their stories, hearing again and again how the government failed to warn workers of the health risks, how city agencies often treated their workers as criminals when their only crime was trying to defend their country.
“You don’t know the stress these guys are under,” she said. “Straight-up, blue collar guys, honest hard-workers, like out of the 1950s. All they wanted to do was their jobs and now they feel betrayed – by Giuliani, Bloomberg. They didn’t understand what was happening to them.”