recruitment drive for the Upper Merrimack Valley MRC had just
been completed. The ink was barely dry on graduation certificates
from the unit's first disaster training classes. Then suddenly,
a call was issued throughout the region for members to apply
their skills in the MRC's first deployment. Even at this early
stage, volunteers were ready, willing, and able to respond.
members celebrate in Westford, after supporting their
first emergency flu and pneumonia clinic.
shortage of influenza vaccine during the fall of 2004 caused
varying levels of distress among vulnerable populations.
When the state of Massachusetts distributed an extra supply
of doses in November, local public health agencies were
eager to set up additional flu clinics right away. However,
many needed help to respond quickly.
The seven communities in the Upper Merrimack Valley support
over a quarter million residents. Four of those towns -
Westford, Chelmsford, Tewksbury, and Tyngsboro - requested
support from the MRC for emergency clinics.
member Carol Devanney prepares paperwork for staffing
the Tyngsboro flu clinic.
The result was
a perfect example of the MRC's ability to offer "surge
capacity." Although many towns have an existing cadre
of nurses that are called upon for clinics, the urgency
for offering vaccinations meant that some of those nurses
wouldn't be available to support the clinics on short notice.
Furthermore, MRC volunteers who provided additional capabilities
(such as people movers and screeners) were able to make
a big difference in the quality of response.
preparing syringes in Westford.
Public Health Nurse for the Town of Chelmsford, saw the
value of an MRC's quick response. "The lack of flu
vaccine, and delays from the state in letting us know when
we could hold our clinics, meant that we had to notify our
usual group of nurses by a late date," said Dunigan.
"We benefited by drawing from the MRC to staff our
Dunigan draws vaccines
for the Chelmsford clinic.
The biggest challenge
was to engage the right people from a large contingent of
new members. Recruits had joined from all seven communities
in the region, to serve in many crucial categories: nurses,
dentists, EMTs, pharmacists, nurse-practitioners, non-medical
support personnel, and other specialties. The roster was
increased even further with additional applications, which
arrived from other sources.
Eberiel, Ph.D, trains Sue Johola, RN to take over his
shift of phone screening and registration for the Tewksbury
invited to deploy through personal phone calls. Although
the MRC had trained its first members only recently, the
requirements for this deployment and skills of its recruits
allowed the unit to respond effectively.
Rosa served at two clinics, handling paperwork in
Westford and administering vaccine in Chelmsford.
proved to be an ideal way of testing the unit's early standard
operating procedures. Even better, members were able to
participate in a deployment where the levels of stress,
severity, and urgency were minimal. Members appreciated
the chance to sharpen their skills and work together as
a unit, in a relatively low-key environment.
Devanney (left), with Sheila Perrault and Nancy Dowling-Meehan:
Three Tyngsboro BOH members who are also RNs, staffing
their town's clinic. Devanney and Dowling-Meehan joined
the MRC in September
members were known and trained in advance, they could be
deployed with assurance that each person could serve well
in this kind of public health emergency. Their roles included
screening and registering patients at a phone bank, handling
patient intake at the clinics, directing patients to their
seats for inoculations, drawing syringes, delivering medications,
and answering each patient's questions.
Director Sandy Collins provides final instructions to
members before the clinic opens.
Many of the phone
registrations demanded significant diplomacy. Although a
flow chart determined who could receive shots, some callers
didn't agree with the criteria set forth by the state of
Massachusetts. Don Delikat recalled, "We had to handle
some callers with kid gloves, because they were so anxious.
But we were glad to alleviate the duties of the health department."
Furthermore, he added, "We used our expertise to help
people, and I made a professional contact."
Donald Delikat, an industrial hygienist
who had served at Ground Zero, screened registrations
director of the Tewksbury Board of Health, appreciated the
MRC's involvement. "We are grateful for all the help
these people have provided, because we couldn't have done
it without them," said Carbone.
was relieved to dust off her skills and get to know her
fellow members in a calm atmosphere. A retired RN, she gained
confidence in her ability to respond to public health emergencies.
"It helped that I wasn't pushed into a crazy disaster
situation right away," said Harrill. "We had plenty
of time to get ready, and got to know some of our fellow
members." Even more important, she explained, "I
hadn't given a shot in 40 years! You don't forget, but it
helps to brush up and be ready for the next deployment.
I feel really comfortable about it now."
Harrill, who refreshed her skills at two clinics in
the deployment, started by helping with set-up procedures.
Some members had never staffed a vaccination clinic, and
were eager to experience this type of event hands-on. The
MRC director had run many similar clinics, so members were
able to learn the ropes from a highly capable and seasoned
Linda McCarthy shares a light moment
with a "brave" patient at the Westford clinic.
Each of the members
who participated had rather glowing feedback afterwards.
This initiative also made the need for a regional MRC feel
much more tangible - for the community as well as the MRC's
Represented at Trauma Conference
When over 200 medical
professionals converged at the Marriott in Burlington, MA, on
November 18 and 19 for the Ninth Annual New England Regional Trauma
Conference, many learned about the national Medical Reserve Corps
system for the first time. The event was sponsored by over a dozen
major trauma centers throughout the region. Many of the speakers
were recognized internationally for their contributions to the
signage was displayed at each entrance.
The Upper Merrimack
Valley MRC maintained a display in the exhibit area throughout
the two-day conference. The unit had also submitted an abstract
about the national MRC organization, which was accepted for poster
presentations. The coordinator for the unit staffed the poster
area during most of the breaks.
Coordinator Nancy Burns answered questions during poster presentations.
This event allowed
the coordinator to answer questions, as well as hand out brochures
and copies of the abstract to interested attendees. Furthermore,
the abstract was included as part of the conference CD, which
was distributed to all registered participants.
Although the conference
had been scheduled long in advance, no one could have predicted
an event that boosted the MRC's special relevance: the closest
local unit had been called to its first deployment the week before.
Thus the poster displays were able to include very recent photos
of MRC members in action, responding to a public health emergency.
The handouts and informal presentations included a description
of the actual response, while the abstract covered the three areas
of focus for the units: mass dispensing of medications, mass casualty
incidents, and community service initiatives.
MRC maintained a display in the exhibit area of the conference.
Between the exhibit
at one end of the conference hall, the poster presentations at
the other end, and networking throughout the event, the MRC system
was well represented to a new audience: trauma specialists who
may play a role in regional mass casualty response!
Recruitment Campaign a Huge Success!
group of members who joined at the fourth and final Information
Session, held at the Butler Middle School in Lowell on October
4, remained after the meeting for a photo.
When the word went
out this fall about the need for a disaster medical corps in the
Upper Merrimack Valley, volunteers rallied to sign up in droves.
Four information sessions were held at strategic locations across
the region, to make attendance as easy as possible for potential
members. By the time the recruitment campaign was over, a whopping
170 recruits were enrolled.
Because a majority
of these members are very busy people leading active lives, who
still believe that keeping our communities safe is a priority
worth making time for, the result is a testament to the spirit
of these new members.
Many of the attendees
had learned of the recruitment through a mass mailing, which was
sent to medical professionals throughout the region, timed to
arrive just after Labor Day. Others heard about recruitment through
a media campaign involving cable TV, radio, newspapers, and the
Internet. Still more found out through nearly 100 posters that
were displayed in high-traffic areas, as well as by word of mouth.
Some new recruits promptly encouraged their colleagues and even
family members to join!
The first information
session took place in Tewksbury on September 23. Following some
welcoming remarks by Board of Health Director Thomas Carbone,
Sandy Collins discussed the importance of local response and why
she had agreed to serve as director for the new unit. A 15-minute
video provided details about the national organization and plans
for the local unit. Coordinator Nancy Burns recapped some main
points with Powerpoint slides, and then led a lively question-and-answer
banner at the entrance welcomed attendees to the information
Collins, MRC director, explains the public health benefits
of the new unit to 52 Chelmsford attendees, all of whom joined
session took place in Billerica on September 28. The audience
included a contingent of local police officers, as well as a variety
of medical care providers. The largest session was held in Chelmsford
on September 30.
More recruitment initiatives
are planned for the future. Meanwhile, anyone wishing to join
the unit is invited to send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
or call 978-399-2549.
Graduating Class Completes Basic Training
Class, October 23rd
October 23, 2004 was
a day to remember for the first 20 graduates of basic disaster
training for the Upper Merrimack Valley MRC. This core curriculum
for the unit was provided by instructors from the American Red
Whitten, director of emergency services for the American Red
Cross of Merrimack Valley,with
Mass Care workbook.
The group completed
a four-module series of classes designed for medical professionals,
held in Westford on three consecutive Saturdays:
- Introduction to Disaster
Disaster Health Services Overview
- Mass Care Overview
- Disaster Health Services
The courses are similar
to the program offered for CERT (Community Emergency Response
Team) members, though the focus for the MRC is geared more for
medical care providers than laypersons.
MRC members learn basic disaster concepts on October 4, the
first day of their training.
To accommodate busy
schedules, members were encouraged to take classes at their own
pace. Some took advantage of the option to complete the introduction
as a self-paced course at home. Others opted to finish all four
modules in sequence, immediately qualifying them for deployments
as MRC representatives at Red Cross operations, such as staffing
team Rita and Doug Hart were instructors for several of the
Red Cross modules.
Because the national
MRC system is still fairly new, and the Upper Merrimack Valley
members are recent recruits, there is great interest in gathering
feedback on ways to tailor the core curriculum for future offerings.
The attendees filled out evaluation forms at the end of each session,
as well as a comprehensive feedback form after the last class.
Members were awarded
graduation certificates and celebrated over a special cake.
Red Cross Instructor
Rita Hart, RN, was given flowers in appreciation for her ongoing
support of the new MRC -- through her willingness to represent
the Red Cross at the MRC recruitment sessions, as well as providing
initial disaster training for the new unit. Nancy Burns, MRC Coordinator,
was also surprised with a floral arrangement by MRC Director Sandy
Collins, for her efforts toward the information sessions and involvement
in MRC training programs.
Cunningham, Dianne Morin, Pauline Ray, and Sharlene Locker
received their certificates from Sandy Collins, Director of
the Upper Merrimack Valley MRC.
Presents at MHOA Conference
Collins (right), an MHOA member and UMV MRC Director, with
Brookline intern Melissa Cole (left) and MRC Coordinator Dawn
The word is getting out through additional organizations that
the MRC system is making inroads across the Bay State. The Massachusetts
Health Officers Association invited two MRC coordinators - Dawn
Sibor of Brookline and Nancy Burns of the Upper Merrimack Valley
- to present at the MHOA 37th annual health conference. The event
was held November 3 to 5 on Cape Cod, at the Four Points Sheraton
MRC involvement was
particularly relevant for this audience because the event was
partially supported by a grant from the Department of Public Health.
Topics pertaining to bioterrorism and emergency preparedness were
prominent in the schedule, and Massachusetts DPH Commissioner
Christine Ferguson was a featured speaker.
Commissioner Christine Ferguson gave the keynote address at
the MHOA awards luncheon.
Over 450 representatives
from health departments throughout Massachusetts convened for
six concurrent programs that took place in five major tracks:
Issues for Inspectors, Food, Environmental, Public Health/Nursing,
and Septic. The session on The Medical Reserve Corps was part
of the Public Health/Nursing program on November 4.
Coordinators Nancy Burns (left) and Dawn Sibor, Brookline
Emergency Preparedness Coordinator; (right), in the exhibit
area with intern Melissa Cole.
spent an hour in the largest ballroom at the conference to learn
about the MRC system. Sandy Collins, RN, a long-term MHOA member
as well as an MRC director, introduced the two speakers and displayed
the Upper Merrimack Valley MRC training video.
Presentations by Burns
and Sibor contrasted the approaches of their two entirely different
units: urban Brookline, which is densely populated and situated
near many world-class medical centers; and the suburban Upper
Merrimack Valley, comprised of seven towns that vary in size and
Martel, who serves on the Westford Board of Health, received
an MHOA President's Award during the lunchtime ceremony.
The common theme was
that each MRC must make decisions about its recruitment, training,
and general organization based on the communities being served,
as well as the characteristics of local care providers and resources.
The question and answer session at the end was followed by many
As luck would have
it, another MRC connection arose during the lunchtime festivities.
Joanne Martel, an RN for the Andover public health department,
also serves on the Westford Board of Health. (Westford is one
of the seven communities in the Upper Merrimack Valley, and is
the host agency for the local MRC.) Martel was surprised to receive
a President's Award for her exemplary service in public health.
Basic Training Class Held in Lowell
group of MRC members completed the Mass Care Overview on Thursday
evening, October 28.
Thirty students comprised
the second graduating class for the Upper Merrimack Valley MRC
on November 18, 2004.
Hart looks on as Gary Whitten explains a disaster scenario.
Because members were
encouraged to sign up for sessions that worked best for their
own schedules, many took some of their classes on Saturdays in
Westford, opting to complete the rest of the four-module program
on Thursday evenings at Cross Point Towers in Lowell. The courses
were provided by instructors from the American Red Cross.
Makes Strong Showing at Homeland Security Conference
Participants from the
Westford area made a strong showing at the second annual New England
Homeland Security conference. Fifteen representatives of the Upper
Merrimack Valley public health coalition, plus three paramedics
from the Lowell Area, attended a full day of sessions at the Coast
Guard Academy in New London, CT on May 27.
of the dignitaries giving presentations were from the U.S. House
of Representatives. Robert Simmons explained that effective ways
to confront terrorism require a new way of thinking,
with more inclusive cooperation among agencies.
Hundreds of attendees from private and municipal
agencies convened at 8:30 a.m. for the opening sessions. The keynote
speaker was John Henshaw, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA
(Occupational Safety and Health). Henshaw emphasized the need
to protect first responders who arrive at the scene of a disaster.
Some people will rush to the scene without regard for their
own safety, said Henshaw. While intervention by OSHA may
not feel welcome at the time, he explained that each workers
health and safety during emergency response is a priority.
John Henshaw describes the role of OSHA in emergency response.
Throughout the day, there were five concurrent 45 sessions
on various aspects of Homeland Security. Many of the speakers discussed
their personal experiences in responding to the events of September
11, sharing what was learned in disaster prevention and response.
Rich Serino, Chief of Boston EMS, stressed the importance of establishing
communications before disaster strikes. During a crisis,
this is not the time to be exchanging business cards. said
Serino. He emphasized that relationships between the key organizations
and individuals must be well established in advance, for effective
response to disasters.
Merrimack Valley Medical Reserve Corps, 55 Main Street, Westford,