Catholic Health aids community members, employees traumatized by mass shooting

August 1, 2022


The May 14 racially motivated mass shooting that left 10 Black people dead traumatized the Buffalo, New York, community. Buffalo's Catholic Health system has been helping people process their shock and grief and overcome practical challenges that have arisen in the tragedy's wake.


"Our community is absolutely devastated," says William Pryor, Catholic Health executive vice president and chief administrative officer. "People don't feel safe."

"Buffalo is a really tightknit community; the loss of 10 lives had an impact on all of us," says Thea Pecht, Catholic Health manager of community and media relations.


Catholic Health has been offering emotional and spiritual support to employees and community members and practical aid to people living in the East Side neighborhood where the gunman shot 13 people at Tops Friendly Markets.

Catholic Health reached out to the community with words of support on its Facebook page: "This expression of racist hate has no place in our city — the City of Good Neighbors — and we will come together as a community, to mourn, comfort, heal and remember the lives" of those who died.

The system went on to say that its mission to reveal the healing love of Jesus to all "will help us all rise above the grief and anger we are feeling and take action to support each other and work towards a greater understanding of one another to spread love to all."

'Everyone is grieving'
According to news reports, the alleged gunman, an 18-year-old white man, had staked out the Tops Friendly Markets store in the predominantly Black East Side neighborhood of Buffalo. He posted a racist screed online and entered the market carrying an assault rifle and wearing body armor and a helmet. The gunman is in custody and faces prosecution on dozens of state criminal counts as well as federal hate crimes and firearms charges.

These houses are in the East Side community in Buffalo, New York, near the grocery store where a May 14 mass shooting occurred. Tops Friendly Markets is the only supermarket for miles and has been a neighborhood hub, residents say. The store was closed for about two months after the shooting.

Upon learning of the shooting, Pryor pulled a list of employees in and surrounding the ZIP code where Tops is located and human resources staff checked in with them on their safety and well-being.

Three employees lost members of their immediate families, says Pecht. She says that with 8,000 associates in Catholic Health's five-hospital network, many had some connection to someone who had died. Many employees who shopped at that Tops had personally known the security guard who died. One employee had gotten help and support during personal struggles from victim Pearl Young, 77.

Pecht says, "Everyone is grieving. For weeks after the shooting, people were crying in meetings."

Listening hearts
Pryor says he and Catholic Health President and Chief Executive Mark A. Sullivan sent an email message to all employees pledging to stand against the horrible act and to support employees and the broader community. Catholic Health also posted that message to its employee intranet.

The hospital is providing grief support through face-to-face and online counseling, and spiritual care from in-house chaplains. Chaplains at Catholic Health host prayer services and, on alternate Tuesdays, virtual support group meetings that are open and free to staff and the broader community.

Catholic Health of Buffalo partnered with the nonprofit FeedMore WNY to collect nonperishable items and emergency relief for the East Side Buffalo neighborhood where the mass shooting took place.

Every weekend Catholic Health chaplains provide free counseling to East Side families at a pavilion in that neighborhood.

The system's mission department hosts listening sessions for employees at all its hospital campuses, which Pryor says were like group therapy for employees. Participants have talked about their connections with the victims and the feelings they've been processing since the mass shooting.

"Some associates are still afraid to go to the grocery store," Pecht said in late June. "Some did not go to the Juneteenth Festival in Buffalo because they were afraid there might be a copycat shooting."

Pryor says employees are concerned with security. "Our hospitals are open 24/7, and all sorts of people come in." He says the hospital is reviewing and hardening its crisis response and security, including by updating its active shooter training and rolling it back out to all staff.

'Not who we are'
Pryor says staff also have been talking in the listening sessions about the racial nature of the tragedy. Everyone agrees that "this is not who we are in Buffalo. We are all disgusted, upset and devastated."

Pryor adds that in listening sessions several employees shared that many do their grocery shopping on Saturdays, so the Saturday shooting of shoppers had shattered their sense of well-being.

Pecht says, "We're having conversations without judgment. Our diversity brings new perspectives to light, and we are learning from people with different life experiences, and it is opening minds."

East Side aid
Pryor says Buffalo's East Side is a community with great socioeconomic challenges, and since the murders, Catholic Health's diversity, equity and inclusion committees have been exploring how to ramp up the system's direct involvement and aid.

Tops is the sole grocery store on Buffalo's East Side. It closed immediately after the shooting — it reopened July 15. Recognizing that community members had no convenient place to buy food, Catholic Health's diversity committees and leadership organized food drives. Contributions filled a semi-truck with over 3,200 pounds of nonperishable food for the FeedMore WNY aid agency. FeedMore distributed the food through its emergency distribution sites in the East Side neighborhood.

Catholic Health recruited 75 staff to volunteer to help deliver to East Side residents over 6,000 hot meals prepared by celebrity chef Darian Bryan and The Plating Society.

Pryor says Catholic Health is doing its best to understand and respond to the needs of its associates and community. Pecht adds, "It's all mission led at the core. And everyone is willing to help."

View a video about the food aid delivered to Buffalo's East Side.

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