Columbia works to improve crisis volunteer program

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia City Council will discuss renewing an agreement with an online service that lets people sign up to help the community in the event of a crisis at its meeting Monday night.

The Medical Reserve Corps is a group of community members who volunteered to assist the Health Department in the event of a city or state emergency. Since 2012, the Health Department has used "Show-me Response," an online service that keeps track of the volunteers. Rebecca Estes, the Senior Planner for the Health Department, is responsible for maintaining that list.

"Their main objective is to support the department of health and human services if there was a public health emergency, such as an outbreak, or an event that required a strain on the health care system," Estes said.

Though many of the volunteers have a background in medical work, Estes said volunteers do not need medical expertise to make a difference.

"I think when people hear ‘Medical Reserve Corps' they think, ‘I'm gonna be providing surgery in the middle of a catastrophe,' and that's not the case at all," Estes said. "We really want to leave that to the professionals in the field and the first responders. Our intent is to support them. So that they have the ability to do their job."

She said the Medical Reserve Corps volunteers can have a variety of responsibilities besides medical care.

"They could be trained to do anything from help answer phones on a call line, or direct traffic if we're doing a drive-through medicine dispensing," Estes said. "Or they could even be helping people fill out forms when they come in."

Estes said though Columbia has not had a "crisis" scenario recently, volunteers still help the Health Department whenever it needs additional manpower.

"Last fall we had a Flu clinic that the department hosted on a Saturday," Estes said. "This wasn't a crisis event, but Medical Reserve Corps volunteers were invited to come and assist because it's very similar to what they would do if it was an emergency. We've not yet reached an emergency crisis event for them, but we have used them for when we need additional staff to help out.'"

She also said it is important to organize people before a crisis happens.

"People need to know to not just go out into the street, but to come to a consolidated location, to be given a volunteer assignment and responsibility, and to even have some training ahead of time," Estes said. "It can help the response be quicker, and ideally make the recovery a little more fluent."

The Health Department is working to develop and improve the Medical Reserve Corps program.

"Currently in our system there's 238 individuals that expressed interest to work for the Columbia/Boone County Medical Reserve Corps," Estes said. "But that number fluctuates a lot. Currently we're going through a process where we're going to re-define what it means to be a member, and we might see that number changing."

The department encourages anyone interested in becoming a volunteer to express their interest sooner rather than later.

"Let us know ahead of time," Estes said. "That way we can ensure that they have the proper skills and training and make sure that whatever position they might get assigned matches their interest," Estes said. "We find that volunteers are happier if they are doing something that they are interested in."

For more information about the Medical Reserve Corps, visit its website.

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