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
nationwide 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.
Judy Dunigan, 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
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 deployment.|
were 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
deployment 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
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|
these 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
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."
Delikat, an industrial hygienist who had served at Ground Zero, screened registrations
Carbone, 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.
Harrill 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 organizer.
McCarthy shares a light moment with a "brave" patient at the Westford
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 membership.