Nfld. & Labrador

Donating big money for big danger: Operation Cliffhanger raises $100K for mental health

First responders took to land, sea and air in a mock search and rescue training exercise at Cuckhold's Cove in Quidi Vidi.

20 donors gave to the fundraising training exercise

Operation Cliffhanger began as a train exercise and ended as a fundraiser for mental health. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

It began as a training exercise for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, but blossomed into a multi-organizational partnership with Eastern Health that raised tens of thousands of dollars for mental health.

"We've got some really good-willed donors with the organization, and they were quite interested in being a part of this once we gave them the opportunity," said Paul Snow, president and CEO of the Health Care Foundation.

"This is a great experience. It's something a little bit different, a little bit unique. The police chief and all the collateral agencies involved really wanted to get involved in raising awareness and money for this."

The mock search-and-rescue training exercise, held at Cuckhold's Cove in Quidi Vidi, involved multiple first responder organizations and covered land, air and sea.

Members of the business community donated their time and money to be put into scenarios where they would have to be rescued by first responders. All told there were 20 donors, 11 of whom actively participated in the exercise. 

The money -- $100,000 -- will go toward research and practices for PTSD and workplace mental health issues, as well as programming for Newfoundland and Labrador.  

President and CEO of Health Care Foundation Paul Snow said the money raised will go into programming for PTSD and work place mental health. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"We wanted to give people the opportunity to really live a day in the life of a first responder, so they could understand the need for mental health services really, that would help people with PTSD and work place mental health injuries," Jackie O'Brien, senior manager, communications and stewardship with the Healthcare Foundation told CBC News.    

Small idea, big execution

Initially, the Health Care Foundation approached the RNC looking for an opportunity to team up and do something to service first responders, as well as front-line health care workers with Eastern Health.

"We didn't know it would translate into this, but through discussions we saw that they were embarking on this training exercise anyway," O'Brien said. 

Several different first responder organizations came together to partake in the training exercise at Cuckhold's Cove in Quidi Vidi Thursday morning. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"So we went down that road, and we've been having some meetings with all the collateral agencies that were involved to make it happen."

The exercise included efforts from ROVERS, Eastern Health, St. John's Regional Fire Department, Canadian Coast Guard, Cougar Helicopters, Universal Helicopters and Civil Air Search and Rescue Association.

O'Brien said the Health Care Foundation is open to partnering with the RNC again for a similar fundraiser in the future.

The fundraiser had 20 donors, 11 of whom participated in the training exercise on Thursday.

"We do want to look at a long-standing partnership with the RNC and our other agencies to keep supporting them, and obviously anyone who needs mental health in the community," she said.

"But this is our first real fundraiser that really zeroed in on first responders and front-line staff, so we're definitely looking at more opportunities to do that."

With files from Bruce Tilley

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