Volunteers called on for possible H1N1 epidemic

With cases of swine flu expected to increase over the fall and winter, Jackson County health officials are calling on physicians, nurses and other medical personnel to join a volunteer army — the Medical Reserve Corps.

The MRC needs to bolster the number of volunteer medical professionals able to respond in the event of an emergency that overwhelms health care capabilities, said Dr. Jim Shames, health officer of Jackson and Josephine counties, in a press release.

"We need local doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to join the Medical Reserve Corps now to ensure a safe and stable community," said Shames.

MRC volunteers can be physicians, nurses or other medical professionals. The MRC volunteer campaign has an immediate need for at least 50 physicians and 100 nurses to join the organization, which supplements existing emergency and public health resources, said Shames.

Medical professionals are needed immediately to administer vaccinations. Health care workers, children and women who are pregnant will be the first to receive the vaccinations.

In addition, doctors and their facilities are needed in the event of an H1N1 epidemic, which could overwhelm current health care capabilities in Southern Oregon, said Mike Curry, emergency management director for Jackson County.

"What we're looking for is volunteers in the medical field who are currently licensed and willing to either staff a phone bank to do nurse triage on the phone, or, as needed, to administer inoculations and assist with an overflow of patients," Curry said Monday.

Having a plan in place with volunteers who can be counted on is critical to a well-coordinated community effort. MRC volunteers become certified and pre-credentialed, enabling them to hit the ground running in the event of an emergency — unlike during the 9/11 tragedy and Hurricane Katrina, when many uncertified volunteers could not be used.

There are plans in place for alternate care sites if Jackson County hospitals reach capacity and their employees are out sick as well, Curry said.

Jackson County currently has about 40 medical professionals signed up to become MRC volunteers, but only a few have made it through the state's registration process. The county on Monday hired a staff member to assist in registering the MCR volunteers, he said.

"It takes a couple weeks to get them through the system," Curry said.

Curry said the H1N1 virus is creating concerns because it is a new strain of the flu that is affecting age demographics differently than traditional flu. Generally it is the young and very old who are most affected by the influenza virus. H1N1 seems to be affecting young adults in their 20s and 30s hardest, he said.

"But for most of us, it's just going to be the flu," Curry said.

The MRC was founded in 2002 as a way for individuals and organizations to volunteer in support of their communities. It is a specialized component of Citizen Corps, a national network of volunteers dedicated to ensuring hometown security. Citizen Corps, along with AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and the Peace Corps, promotes volunteerism and service nationwide.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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