An Inside Look at NACCHO’s MRC Challenge Award Recipients

Within the first year of the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) Challenge Awards, 29 recipients are working to improve the health of their communities through new projects and programs made possible by the awards. Each of the 29 units, with the support of NACCHO and the Division of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps, has launched initiatives targeting one of the four focus areas: community resilience, mental and emotional health and well-being, chronic disease prevention, and partners for empowered communities. Nearly $600,000 was distributed through these MRC Challenge Awards to the top applicants, who underwent a competitive application process. Two hundred MRC units across the United States applied for this chance to creatively respond to their community needs through the development of new programs and projects.

Albuquerque Jr. Medical Reserve Corps participants at a local public health volunteer event.

Albuquerque Junior MRC participants at a local public health volunteer event.

The 29 units have put forward a tremendous effort in facilitating these projects and have provided excellent feedback about their experiences via MRC profile pages set up by NACCHO to follow the progress of the awardees. As units update their profiles with posts about their progress, readers gain insight into the unit’s activities as they brainstorm, create, and implement their innovative projects. Much of their emphasis has been on improving the preparedness in the communities by implementing public health activities such as obesity prevention, post-traumatic stress monitoring, and early interventions in domestic violence. The following are highlights from award recipients in each of the four focus areas:

Community Resilience

Skagit County MRC (Washington): A major issue in the Skagit County community has been the re-admission of newly discharged individuals from hospitals and long term care facilities due to misunderstandings and about medications or post-discharge care. The Skagit County MRC has developed a program to help prevent re-admission and promote community resiliency. MRC volunteers have partnered with local hospitals, county government, and emergency medical services to provide services to newly discharged patients. This program will connect newly discharged individuals with MRC volunteers who will provide an in-person consultation about medications and post-discharge instructions. Patients will also have connection to a cadre of case managers to contact before an emergency situation occurs. The MRC will address resiliency, by helping these individuals return to a state of health more quickly, increasing the general health of the community.

Mental and Emotional Health and Well-being

Brookline Department of Public Health MRC (Massachusetts): The focus of the Brookline Youth Wellness Project is to address growing concerns about the mental health problems of Brookline youth. Mental health and youth wellness has been identified as the top health concern by a cadre of community members including parents, students, MRC members, school staff, mental health, and other youth-serving professionals. Together they developed a plan to address associated risk factors and to improve the rate of at risk students who are being referred for services. A Depression Awareness series as well as a Stress and Mental health presentation has been worked into the 9th grade Brookline High School curriculum. Parent education events, mindfulness workshops and a partnership with the Brookline High School GTSA (Gay Transgender Straight Alliance) have also been developed in support of the MRC Challenge Award Project.

Partners for Empowered Communities

Albuquerque-UNM MRC (New Mexico): The Albuquerque MRC has set out to educate their youth on public health initiatives through a web based curriculum named Public Health Action Curriculum for Teens (PHACT). This program was developed by the MRC in conjunction with the University of New Mexico (UNM), School of Medicine, Center for Disaster Medicine, and the New Mexico Department of Health. Prominent issues that have impacted the New Mexico communities will be covered in the curriculum including: 1) chronic disease prevention, 2) health equity and public health careers, 3) emotional/mental well-being, 4) first-aid and CPR, and 5) personal preparedness. This learning opportunity has been promoted through their Facebook page and will be available on their website and YouTube channel aiming to serve the youth of both urban and rural areas. PHACT is currently being piloted through a partnership with the local Boys and Girls Club and is expected to be fully available by Fall 2014.

Chronic Disease Prevention

Woodford County Health Department MRC (Kentucky): “Step by Step to a Healthier Woodford County” aims to address chronic disease prevention through the utilization of square foot gardening (SFG). The Woodford County Health Department MRC is focusing on increasing access to healthy foods by introducing, educating, and demonstrating the concept of SFG and how to prepare the foods grown in the garden. This project involves the collaboration of a variety of community members including: assisted living facilities, church groups, and fire departments, etc. This initiative coincides with prevention strategies identified in the National Prevention Strategy and Million Hearts Campaign. The MRC has developed a partnership with the Woodford County Extension Office allowing them to create educational material, purchase necessary supplies, produce organic ingredients, and offer healthy cooking demonstrations to their community.

Stay tuned to mrcnaccho.org for more updates from the 2013 NACCHO MRC Challenge Award winners as they continue to report on their progress. Information about how to apply for the 2014 MRC Challenge Awards will be available this fall during National Preparedness Month. Please visit mrcnaccho.org for updates and tips on how to apply.

Local health departments (LHDs) can benefit from the expertise and innovative thinking of MRC volunteers. If your local health department does not have an MRC unit, learn more about the benefits of housing an MRC unit and how MRC volunteers augment the LHD workforce. The new NACCHO University hosts an eLearning module titled “Building Capacity from Within: Demonstrating the Value of the MRC to Local Health Departments” to illustrate the value of having MRC volunteers within local health departments. Also view NACCHO’s policy statement encouraging the inclusion of MRC volunteers in emergency response and public health activities, and the issue brief, “The MRC: A Valuable Asset to Local Health Departments” to learn how to form an MRC unit.

About Katie Roulston

Katie serves as the Program Associate for Public Health Preparedness at NACCHO. Her work includes supporting the Medical Reserve Corps and local health department's best practices through project management, administrative support and relationship building.

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