Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
Newly-created medical corp may battle virus
By Shelley Grieshop
Mercer County commissioners this week approved the creation of a Medical Reserve Corp (MRC) to help prepare residents for likely emergencies such as an outbreak of the H1N1 virus.
The MRC is the newest division of the county's Citizens Corps Council (CCC), an organization registered with the U.S. government for aid in disaster preparedness. The MRC will include medical professionals and non-medical volunteers, officials said.
The CCC was created in March 2003 through the local Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and reaffirmed by the commissioners this week. It, too, solicits volunteers willing to be trained for a variety of emergency situations.
Currently spearheading the formation of both organizations are Wanda Dicke of the EMA and Dale Palmer, the administrator for the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department. Their immediate goal is to hire a part-time coordinator by September to jump-start the MRC in lieu of the current threat of H1N1 (formerly called swine flu). In late June, a 14-year-old Mercer County girl was diagnosed with the virus and is recovering.
In the event of a pandemic illness such as H1N1, the medical community would need assistance, Palmer said.
"We need help. We can't rely solely on our first-responders," he added.
Palmer is currently creating a job service contract for the coordinator position and others, which would outline duties, list the chain of command and other operating procedures. Before being adopted, the contract must first be approved by a steering committee, which also is in the initial stages of formation, he added.
MRC members, particularly those without medical backgrounds, would be used in a variety of scenarios such as helping with vaccination/immunization clinics, creating crisis shelters and transporting medical supplies, Palmer said.
Soliciting the help of Mercer County residents with medical backgrounds isn't easy, officials say. Contacting the local hospital or medical offices doesn't always reach everybody, Commissioner Jerry Laffin said.
"Quite a few (Mercer County) people in the medical field work outside the county," he said.
The coordinator to be hired this fall will help educate the public on emergency response, provide training to medical and non-medical personnel and gather names of volunteers for a call list. His/her salary and other MRC expenses will be paid through several funding sources including a $14,000 Homeland Security Grant issued in 2007 and a $5,000 grant through the health department.
Palmer also is awaiting word from the U.S. Surgeon General's office about a $10,000 grant through the National Association of County and City Health Officials, which is earmarked for newly-formed MRCs. The grant could include a $5,000 grant award each year thereafter, he said.
The local CCC currently consists of more than a dozen community leaders, politicians, health and school officials and emergency response personnel. There are more than 2,300 Citizen Corps councils across the U.S., including one in Auglaize County headed up by EMA Director Todd Anderson.
For more information or to volunteer call Palmer at 419-586-3251 or go to serveohio.org/ohiocitizencorps_MRC.aspx.
Local health officials say vaccinations against the continuing spread of the H1N1 virus likely won't be available to health departments until mid-October or later.
Two back-to-back doses will be needed over a 28-day cycle, according to Administrator Dale Palmer of the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department.
"Everything is so uncertain right now," he added. "They're just starting clinical trials on the vaccine."
Once the local health department receives the vaccine, they plan to hold clinics for its distribution. At least one of those clinics likely will be a "drive-through" event at the Mercer County Fairgrounds in Celina.
Health officials around the world are concerned about the virus for numerous reasons. Palmer said the seasonal flu typically dies off in the warmer months but that hasn't been the case with H1N1 (formerly called swine flu).
"We've seen it at summer camps and it seems to be much harder on children than the seasonal flu," he said.
His concern, which is shared by many, is that students will further spread the virus when they head back to school in the coming weeks. Educational talks are being planned at all school districts in the county with the focus on proper handwashing - the biggest key to prevention, he added.
Mercer County had one confirmed case of H1N1 in June. The victim, a 14-year-old girl, reportedly contracted the illness while at a church missionary event out of state. She is recovering.
The World Health Organization recently declared the H1N1 a global pandemic due to how fast it continues to spread, not its severity. The virus is most severe in young children, the elderly and those with chronic health problems.
The U.S. continues to report the most cases of any country. Current reports show more than 43,700 cases and more than 300 deaths in the U.S. Worldwide numbers include 134,500 cases and more than 800 deaths.
- Shelley Grieshop