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A mysterious and deadly disease hits, taxing the capabilities of hospitals, health workers and emergency personnel. Or perhaps a disaster or other public health emergency strikes, similarly straining the health care system. Where can relief be found?

In the event of a public health emergency, volunteers are a valuable resource, and the Medical Reserve Corps – a dedicated group of individuals that can be relied upon to respond – is available to help put emergency plans into action.

MRC units are based locally and are comprised of medical, public health, and other civilian volunteers using their specialized skills and training to provide additional support in their communities during emergencies. Throughout the year, MRC volunteers offer education and prevention services to improve the public health infrastructure of their neighborhoods and communities.

“Volunteers from the medical profession provide an invaluable service in meeting any needs that may occur in times of disaster or disease,” noted Freeholder Everett A. Chamberlain, freeholder liaison to the Warren County Health Department, which oversees the county’s Medical Reserve Corps.

Sheila Risley, the department’s Health Educator/Risk Communicator who coordinates the county’s MRC, praised the current members, remarking, “As a group, they’re really great. They would go out of their way to do anything that’s needed.”

However, Risley said more volunteers are being sought, explaining, “They would be very important if we needed help or extra hands during any kind of emergency.”

In Warren County, members of the Warren County Health Department Medical Reserve Corps unit recently participated in a full scale exercise to practice their response to such an emergency. Dubbed “The Return of Harvey,” the exercise, held on September 26, 2008, was designed to simulate an outbreak of tularemia, a disease that can be spread naturally by animals including rabbits, or can be turned into a bioterrorism agent.

The MRC volunteers assisted with the sorting and packing of mock medications that in a real event would be distributed to county residents. Agencies working with the MRC volunteers during the exercise included the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Public Safety Department and its Office of Emergency Management, Health Department, Public Health Nursing Agency, Road Department and Public Information Department, as well as municipal emergency coordinators, Warren Hospital, Hackettstown Regional Medical Center, the American Red Cross, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

 

 
Some of the members of the Warren County Medical Reserve Corps after the recent exercise dubbed “The Return of Harvey.”

At the end of the exercise an evaluator from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services’ Exercise Support Team held a “hotwash,” or debriefing, for the volunteers. The evaluator told the volunteers how impressed he was with their performance during the exercise and thanked them for their valuable contribution to the county and state emergency preparedness and response effort.

“The Return of Harvey” is the fifth full scale exercise the Warren County MRC has participated in and each time its members have proven to be an important part of the emergency response team.

If anyone is interested in joining the Warren County MRC or would like more information about the unit, please call Sheila Risley at 908-475-7960 or visit the Warren County MRC web pages at www.co.warren.nj.us/Healthdept/mrc.html#1 or the New Jersey MRC website at www.njmrc.nj.gov.

 

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