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History of Grief STEP™ Programs

Mary S. Reigel and Daniel A. Barnes originally envisioned GriefSTEP™ Programs in 1990. They were part of a small group of professionals gathered by Alameda County’s (California) Emergency Medical Services to establish the standard of care to be used by paramedics and firefighters towards the on-scene family when there was patient death or death determination during a 911 emergency response. This was due to the EMS district’s changing termination of resuscitation (TOR) protocols and non-transport polices. The initial training in 1992 was the first of its kind in the United States. 

Mary, with a background in crisis, disaster, coroner issues and the treatment of trauma and Daniel (The ACCESS Group, Ltd.), who had worked with San Francisco General Hospital during the AIDS epidemic, hospice and with Steven Levine, combined their interests.  They received grants from the State of California’s Emergency Medical Services Authority to continue their work and establish the Standard of Care of the on-scene bereaved for all Emergency Services throughout California.

Hallmark to this training program not only was program content, but the development of handouts/brochures to be given to families by 911 response teams when death occurred. These handouts, in several languages, included information on what to do next - funeral consumer information, medical examiner information, acute grief reactions for all ages and community resources. The San Francisco Medical Examiners Office, Alameda County Coroner’s Office, local police and sheriff’s departments all reviewed and approved of our training materials and handouts.

Mary and Daniel inaugurated their Grief STEP™ Programs’ workshops, called “Grief Support in the Field” in 1994 and by 1998 had provided trainings, which usually included local law enforcement, for San Francisco Emergency Services, San Francisco Fire Department, Alameda County EMS and fire services, Phoenix Arizona’s Fire Department and at several national and statewide conferences. This lead the way for the majority of the EMS districts of California to implement the Grief STEP™ Programs’ sensitive and appropriate Standard of Care, unprecedented in the Nation.

Somewhere in these early years, Mary and Daniel started using the subtitle ‘Say the Right Thing, Do the Right Thing’ with their trainings. This was due to the tremendous feedback from firefighters, EMS and law enforcement personnel that they “didn’t know what to do or say” to victims, often winged it and said something they knew was inappropriate or insensitive; what they liked about our program was that it fulfilled this need to know what to say and do.

After years of community service in death and dying and contributing profoundly to the establishment of the Grief STEP™ Programs, Daniel retired in 1998. Mary has continued working to establish the Standard of Care on a national and international level and with the support of many organizations such as EMSA, Fremont Fire Department and Northern California Fire Chief’s Association, and Pennwell Publishing. Since 2001 Mary has often co-instructed with Robert J. O’Brien, Retired Deputy Chief, Training and EMS Division, Fremont Fire Department.

In 2002 GriefSTEP™ Programs broadened its scope of trainings to include the business, social service and mental health environments. The workshop subtitle, ‘Say the Right Thing, Do the Right Thing’ is currently becoming a workshop series dedicated to the training of individuals, volunteers and professionals who want to provide sensitive support to the bereaved and traumatized.

For more information e-mail Mary at:   mary@griefsupport.org

Grief STEP™ Programs
3336 Bradshaw Road, Suite 340
Sacramento, CA 95827

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