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Story from the Field

Name of Health Department/Agency: Region IV Public Health - a collaborative H1N1 response among 4 Southwest Washington counties: Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania and Wahkiakum
State: WA
Date Added: 01/05/2010
Themes: Vaccine Supply and Distribution
Issue Summary: Using volunteers to help us get priority populations vaccinated.
Description of Issue(s): With limited supplies of vaccine, Region IV Public Health's initial vaccine distribution strategy was to target priority populations by holding vaccine clinics (PODs). Clinics took place at schools and daycare centers, health departments, shopping malls, and other locations. However, budget cuts and staffing reductions at health departments in the 4-county region severely impacted public health's ability to conduct these PODs.
Actions taken to address the issue(s): Because local health departments in Southwest Washington didn't have the resources to effectively set up multiple PODs, Region IV Public Health drew upon its Medical Reserve Corps volunteers and requested additional community volunteers through the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, which supplied volunteers from Search and Rescue, Neighbors on Watch, Volunteer Mobilization Center, Red Cross, and CERT.

From early October through early December, 2009, more than 350 volunteers served in the region's H1N1 response, providing 3,581 hours of service (the equivalent of 11.25 FTEs) and enabling Region IV Public Health to vaccinate 20,000 people at several dozen PODs. One MRC volunteer even loaned her vehicle and trailer to help move supplies from location to location, which saved the time and expense of having to rent a vehicle.

The largest POD in Clark County required up to 240 people daily, more than double Clark County Public Health's staff of 110 employees, only a minority of whom were able to help out at the PODs. Volunteer jobs included vaccinators, parking attendants, flow monitors, and general support positions such as registration, screening, forms collecting, and insurance scanning. Public Health staff provided volunteers just-in-time training for many positions right before the PODs opened to the public. Volunteer turnout was an impressively high 97 percent, and the few no-shows were due to illness or unforeseen job obligations.

Although Region IV health departments have for the most part stopped hosting PODs in favor of transferring the vaccine administration effort to providers, clinics, and pharmacies, several volunteers continue to help out in areas such as outreach to vulnerable populations and community based organizations.

Outcomes that resulted from actions taken: This was a good relationship-building experience. The Region IV MRC is a fairly new organization of volunteers who, until now, have been deployed only sporadically. Volunteer feedback indicated most volunteers felt they gained useful experience while making valuable contributions to the community's well-being and helping Public Health to do something that would have been impossible without them. They felt they were well trained for their jobs and felt comfortable doing the work. In addition to volunteers from established groups, Public Health gained 97 emergent volunteers over the course of the response who called to offer their services; many of these volunteers are likely to join MRC. Public Health will build on this experience and refine the process for mobilizing volunteers for future events. A volunteer thank-you event is being planned for January.

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