January 13, 2011

The Medical Reserve Corp Wants You!

Between the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, America has learned the value of being prepared. The federal government is helping communities do just that through the all-civilian, all-voluntary Medical Reserve Corps.

When the 9/11 disasters hit in 2001, people all over the country wanted to help, and they did- opening their pocketbooks to support organizations like the American Red Cross, collecting food and water for the emergency workers and yes rushing to the various attack sites to provide aid to those who were injured. Many of them were health care professionals who, by their very nature, could not stand by idly by when they could see a need for their services.

Unfortunately, most of these individuals could not be utilized. Due to a lack of resources and processes in place, the officials organizing the response efforts were unable to identify, credential, or manage so many individuals during the chaos of the moment. This is one of the biggest reasons why the federal government decided to form the voluntary, civilian-based Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) in 2002.

Margaret Curry, Administrator of the Scotland County Health Department said, "All those volunteers that respond spontaneously to a disaster are folks who are very, very well intentioned and probably very well skilled to, but it they are not known to the system in advance… if they are not identified, if it's not known what their credentials are, or what their level of training is, they can become a part of the problem or they can get hurt themselves." Curry says that "the mission of the MRC's is to make sure that the problems that spontaneous volunteers can raise are avoided in the future by working now, on a community-by-community basis, to bring qualified health professionals and others who want to respond in the event of an emergency to a local MRC unit."

Each community is charged with setting up its MRC to meet its own specific needs, and that can range all the way from emergency response to helping out with annual influenza vaccination programs. Scotland County Health Department is forming a local Medical Reserve Corp and plans to recruit a broad base of volunteers, including not just health professionals but others who can be involved during any event. Training is an important aspect of the Medical Reserve Corp so there will be trainings offered on a regular basis. Even though MRC's are local, and thus will mainly deploy in the event of a local public health event, some units' members may be called upon to deploy by the federal government as well. However, Curry emphasized that "no MRC volunteer is ever required to deploy. In the event of a large scale disaster, the government simply asks who is qualified to respond and who is available, and volunteers make their own decisions." Liability protection is generally handled locally or on the state level, although MRC members who deploy through the federal government become temporary federal employees and are covered as such. "Ultimately, what we want to do is have a prepared community that is able to stand on its own if something happens," said the administrator.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer please attend the initial meeting at 5:30 p.m. on January 20, 2011 at the Health Department. For more information contact Margaret Curry at 660-465-7275.

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