Group seeking medical volunteers

NASHUA – A community-based Medical Reserve Corps is looking for a few good volunteers among doctors, pharmacists, lab techs and medical professionals of all stripes to serve.

The 2-year-old national MRC makes its arrival in the state after three communities, including Nashua, won federal grants.

“It’s going to be a real good thing,” said Steffan Rusakow, director of the Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services.

The MRC formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when a spirit of volunteerism swept the country. The volunteer program is an arm of the Citizen Corps, USA Freedom Corps.

The goal is to establish a volunteer group of medical professionals across the country to respond to disasters or public health projects.

Ed Lecius, a city emergency preparedness director, said the program is another example of the city on the cutting edge of planning for disasters.

Even if the volunteers are never used, it’s worthwhile to have the MRC program available, he said.

City Hall’s Division of Public Health and Community Services is one of the partners in the program. The division recently received $50,000 from the federal _government to start the effort. Aldermen will vote on accepting the money on Tuesday.

A grant from the federal government also went to medical programs at the Greater Derry Community Health Services and in the North Country Health Consortium in Littleton.

The program is based in each community, but there is an eye toward establishing statewide relationships, Rusakow said.

The Nashua MRC would like to enlist 50 medically trained volunteers during its first year.

“We already have a significant pool of people that have shown an interest,” said Bill Brown, the EMS administrator and emergency program manager at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center.

Brown wants to promote the program to broaden the number of medical specialties. He called it an “all-hazards approach to emergency service.”

For instance, in the midst of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City, veterinarians were needed to handle the animals left by fleeing residents, he said. Thus, an array of medical specialists is needed, from social workers and mental health specialists to dentists and retired medical personnel, he said.

The MRC aims to avoid the confusion that can arise when well-meaning people step forward to help when disaster strikes, Brown said.

The would-be volunteers may be unfamiliar with emergency procedures and can slow down help to victims, while the MRC volunteers have medical background and know their roles if they are needed, he said.

It would also ensure the volunteers have the proper credentials to perform the medical procedures, he said.

The organized group of volunteers can step in and relieve first responders at large-scale emergencies, such as an influenza epidemic, chemical spill or acts of terrorism.

Brown said the volunteers could have a role in less dire situations, such as helping with public health initiatives, such as smallpox inoculations.

A system is being developed to bring the volunteers together for additional training. The MRC would also give workshops to the members on specific topics, such as SARS prevention, emergency incident command structures and the role of the public health department.