BRISTOL - The Bristol-Burlington Health District (BBHD) is recruiting volunteers to get training for public health emergency preparedness.
“We’re looking for volunteers from the general public. They don’t have to have any special medical or public health or emergency preparedness skills,” explained Charles Motes, the health district’s director of health.
The volunteers would be used as support staff if the health district had to set up a Point of Distribution clinic for distributing emergency drugs or immunizations during a disease outbreak, he said.
The health district is responsible for emergency disease outbreak response. During an emergency such as an epidemic of influenza, or even if a terrorist group were to release a dangerous bacteria or virus, the federal and state government may declare a public health emergency. The local health districts in Connecticut have plans in place to provide emergency protective measures such as vaccinations or medicines to ward off illnesses before they strike. The BBHD has a point of distribution plan in place, which involves using staff, volunteers, and a local school as a makeshift Point of Distribution clinic.
Supplies from federal stockpiles would be sent to Connecticut and be distributed to local clinics by the state Department of Public Health, which could take up to 24 hours. In the meantime, local health departments will organize their Point of Distributions and staff them with employees and volunteers.
“The immunizations or pills must be distributed to our city and town residents within a matter of very few days!” according to a statement from the BBHD. “Our local health department will need many volunteers to help with the distribution, and BBHD is recruiting volunteers to help our staff. Prior experience is not necessary, nor is medical knowledge. A willingness to help our community and some time to give are all that are needed. A volunteer must be at least 18 years old to be accepted.”
The training is fairly simple, Motes said. “Each volunteer would be part of a team that would be headed up by one of our full-time employees. We need people to help us out, because in the course of anywhere between three to five days we would have to treat as much as 60,000 to 70,000 people in the Bristol and Burlington area.”
Motes said it may take about 100 people to run a clinic during that time, while the BBHD has only 42 full-time employees, including 19 registered nurses. “It has to be done quickly because these diseases may develop quickly. The volunteers would have to be treated first to be protected against these diseases,” he said.
The volunteers would help keep track of paperwork, direct people into the proper lines, make sure they don’t have any reactions to the medications, and generally help things run smoothly with a minimum of fuss, Motes said. The health district routinely runs such clinics during flu season; it would just be a matter of scaling it up.
The BBHD holds a full scale mock disaster drill every three or four years, he continued. “It’s usually one weekend a year, taking over a school in Bristol.”
The volunteers see what a clinic experience is like and they also get to play the role of the patients, “because you can’t really help people unless you know what it’s like for them to begin with,” he said.
It would be good practice for a young person considering a career in public health, he added. “They would get a flavor of what it’s like.”
The Bristol-Burlington Health District is located at 240 Stafford Ave. For more information, call 860-584-7682, or visit bbhd.org. Anyone interested in volunteering in an emergency, and helping out during training drills, can contact the BBHD with their name, address, age, telephone and cell phone number.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.