Paging all healthcare pros

August 9, 2012 

The message is clear: L.A. County needs more healthcare volunteers to help out when disaster hits.

If you’ve got the skills, L.A. County wants you to be part of The Surge.

A new advertising campaign is being launched to expand the ranks of the county’s network of volunteer healthcare professionals who help out when major disasters or public health emergencies strike.

“No matter what happens with a disaster, there are always issues with medical needs,” said Cathy Chidester, director of the county Emergency Medical Services Agency. “Right now our hospitals are really maxed out, so, in case of a large-scale disaster, you are going to need extra professionals to staff those needs.”

Electronic billboard space valued at up to $250,000 recently was donated to the Los Angeles County Disaster Healthcare Volunteers, a collaborative effort led by the county’s Emergency Medical Services Agency and Department of Public Health, by outdoor communications companies, through a partnership with the City of Los Angeles. The donation was approved by the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

One of the new billboard ads will recruit for the L.A. County Surge Unit, the largest of four volunteer groups under the “Disaster Healthcare Volunteers” umbrella. Another will spread the word about the Medical Reserve Corps of Los Angeles—a volunteer unit associated with the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. A third ad will be reserved for recruiting when a major disaster already has occurred.

The county volunteer collaborative was founded after the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina increased awareness of a need for backup healthcare personnel. Volunteers pre-register as professionals by entering their information into a database managed by the State of California. Their licensure and place of practice are verified by the program, and they are then considered “hospital ready.”

The Surge Unit seeks a variety of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, EMTs and lab technicians. The unit is not aimed at recruiting first responders; rather, it seeks people to serve during the days following a large-scale disaster, when they would be contacted and mobilized to increase the capacity of hospitals and clinics.

Licensed mental health professionals are also vital to the effort, said Sandra Shields, Senior Disaster Services Analyst for the unit.

“Following a disaster, we expect a surge in people coming to the hospital concerned that they may be ill or have an injury, but are not actually hurt,” said Shields. Mental health professionals “can help manage the psychological casualties of major disasters.”

For more information about the Surge Unit or to register to help, visit the website or call (818) 908-5150. The unit also offers training sessions several times per year. The sessions are voluntary, as are all other aspects of the program. The personal information of volunteers is secured and can only be accessed by official representatives of the group.

The Surge Unit currently boasts 3,027 volunteers. With the help of the billboards, the program hopes to reach 4,000 by the end of the year. If you think you may want to help out during a disaster, signing up in advance is critical.

“The hospitals and clinics cannot effectively utilize spontaneous volunteers,” Shields said. “We want to use their skills appropriately and that’s easier if they are pre-registered.”

Posted 8/9/12

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