Volunteers sought for medical reserve corps

The recent national bioterrorism emergency training exercise, TOPOFF 3, may be history, but one lesson learned from it shows the need for additional volunteer workers to help administer antidotes to bioterrorism attacks, according to an Ocean County Health Department planner.

“Overall, Ocean County agencies and hospitals turned in a great performance,” said Ocean County Health Department Planner Daniel Regenye. “However, the exercise also showed that we need more civic-minded volunteers to help staff our emergency clinics in times of need.”

Regenye said TOPOFF 3 pointed out a shortcoming in the health department’s ability to operate emergency clinics on a sustained 24-hour per day basis.

“We were capable of operating our POD or Point of Dispensing clinic for the time period required in the exercise,” Regenye said. “We used a multi-discipline approach, including staff from public health, mental health, law enforcement and emergency response.

“In a real situation, at some point, the staff would have to be relieved and a new shift would come on duty, since the clinic would be operating 24-hours a day. We need additional qualified and trained persons to help staff the clinics so we can provide those emergency services to an anxious public on a continuous basis,” Regenye said. “That is why the Medical Reserve Corps is so important to our mission. We have a need for upwards of 6,000 volunteers; from licensed medical personnel to concerned members of the general public to handle everything from medication distribution to parking and crowd control.”

According to Edward Rumen, the health department’s public information officer, the Medical Reserve Corps is a state-sanctioned program where volunteers are registered according to qualifications and background as agreeing to help during emergencies.

“We keep an updated roster of persons willing to help Ocean County residents and visitors in times of emergency,” Rumen said. “The listing includes physicians, nurses, pharmacists, clerical workers, security personnel and regular citizens. The main requirement is dependability and an interest in helping others.”

Rumen added, “Anyone wishing to become part of the Medical Reserve Corps team should contact Daniel Regenye at 1-800-342-9738, ext. 7227 and a short application form will be sent to them.”

Rumen said advantages of being part of the Medical Reserve Corps are satisfaction in helping others and quick personal treatment for exposure to any bioterrorism agent that caused an emergency for the Medical Reserve Corps members and their families.

“It stands to reason that anyone in a clinic needs to be given whatever medication or immunization is called for in an emergency, as they deal with an exposed public,” Rumen said. “Exper-ience elsewhere has shown that clinic staff has great concerns with the welfare of their family members, so those family members would be first to receive whatever prophylaxis was appropriate for the emergency. This helps assure that clinic staff will be at the clinic where they can best serve the public good, instead of at home, concerned about their families.”

Rumen said the health department would like to have approximately 6,000 persons in its Medical Reserve Corps.

“Six thousand may seem like a large number, but our goal is to service the entire population of Ocean County within a three- to four-day period. Without tourists, we will be reaching out to approximately 550,000 persons,” Rumen said.

“Each full POD needs at least 250 persons per shift to serve 1,000 to 1,200 clients per hour. We anticipate a full-blown emergency would require the opening of at least six PODS. Staffing those locations 24 hours a day calls for a massive volunteer effort,” he added.