Volunteers needed for Medical Reserve Corps

March 8, 2011

By Laura Geggel

Medical and nonmedical volunteers with the Public Health Reserve Corps set up shop for a mock alternative care facility, a place where certified volunteers can triage patients during a natural disaster, medical emergency or attack. Contributed

How should Issaquah respond to an earthquake? A terrorist attack? A newly discovered and contagious flu?

Volunteers with the Issaquah Medical Reserve Corps will know how to set up an emergency triage station, vaccination clinic and respond to and treat the public. The same goes for the Public Health Reserve Corps, run by Public Health – Seattle & King County, only instead of staying in Issaquah, these volunteers help across the county in the case of an emergency.

“We do encourage people to cross register with Public Health Reserve Corps, so in case of a disaster where Issaquah is fine, we can go to other areas and help out,” said Brenda Bramwell, a volunteer for both the Issaquah and the Public Health Reserve Corps.

The Medical Reserve Corps movement began in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

In the turmoil following the attacks, regular citizens wanted to help, especially those who were medically trained. At the time, there was no standard way for them to organize, and no way for victims to know if the do-gooders had proper credentials.

In President George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address, he asked Americans to volunteer in support of their country. Shortly after, the government formed the Office of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps, with chapters for the organization forming at state and local levels.

Today, there are 938 Medical Reserve Corps units and 210,000 volunteers across the nation. Volunteers have helped support emergency responses to hurricanes, floods, wildfires and public health emergencies, including outbreaks of the H1N1 virus.

“The mission of the Medical Reserve Corps is to engage volunteers to strengthen public health, emergency response and community resiliency,” national spokeswoman Grace Middleton wrote in an e-mail.

Anyone older than 18 can apply to volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps. People who have no medical background can apply to volunteer as call center operators, drivers, greeters, flow control and administrative support.

Medical volunteers of all backgrounds, including nurses, paramedics, pharmacists and physicians, can also apply, as can veterinary volunteers and behavioral health volunteers, such as marriage and family therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health counselors and clinical social workers.

The Issaquah Medical Reserve Corps, founded in 2010, has 37 participants, 15 of whom are medically trained. The Public Health Reserve Corps, started in 2007, has 345 volunteers and, like Issaquah, is looking for more members.

“For every one medical person we need two nonmedical people,” said Olivia Zieve, Public Health Reserve Corps program coordinator and AmeriCorps member.

After volunteers pass a background check and complete online training, they can participate in training events. For example, the Public Health Reserve Corps has done trainings for how to handle a dirty bomb attack, how to set up a shelter at Seattle Center in case of an emergency and how to facilitate a vaccination clinic, including a real clinic at a homeless shelter and clinics in Des Moines and Shoreline for the flu.

During mock events, some volunteers pretend they are injured or distraught civilians, giving organizers practice for a real situation.

At the end of an event, volunteers gather together and review what went well, and what could have gone better.

The Issaquah Medical Reserve Corps has yet to hold a mock event, but it hosts monthly meetings and encourages members to come when they can.

“For ourselves, as volunteers, the reason we’re doing it is, one, we want to help the public,” volunteer Alan Bramwell said. “We want to help the city be better prepared, prepared for training and responding to emergencies.”

Get involved

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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