Earlier this year, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) released a revised version of the National Health Security Strategy (NHSS). The document provides strategic direction to ensure that efforts to improve health security nationwide over the next four years are guided by a common vision; based on sound evidence; and carried out in an efficient, collaborative manner. During the 2015 Preparedness Summit, CAPT Rob Tosatto, Director, Division of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps and Kara Marsh, Volunteer Coordinator of the Macomb County Health Department recorded an interview about the updated NHSS document and the role of the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) within the strategy for NACCHO’s Podcast Series.
NACCHO: CAPT Tosatto, can you tell us about the National Health Security Strategy and the role of MRC volunteers within that strategy?
CAPT Tosatto: The National Health Security Strategy is a large document that focuses on health security for the nation. It’s not a federal document; it’s for all of us. It’s for the local, state, regional, and nationals on what they can do, on what everybody can do to improve health and safety in the nation. The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) has a strong role to play in in that. The MRC is a national network of local volunteers that are improving health in their communities. They’re helping to reduce vulnerabilities and build resiliency, and then when they’re needed, they respond and help the community to recover from disasters. Volunteers are a part of the national health security workforce and so we treat them as such. They are a strong component of it.
NACCHO: Kara, as a Volunteer Coordinator, can you provide some real world examples of the NHSS in action?
Kara: Absolutely. One of the things that it talks about is social networking for instance. Many volunteer organizations use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to recruit volunteers, so that creates that social networking bond with the community. Other examples are networking with other community organizations. For example, we work with our library for the blind and physically handicapped talking to our low vision network and individuals who are blind and low vision and talking about their role as potential volunteers and their role in preparedness. As well as all of the community exercises that the Medical Reserve Corps volunteers are involved in all plays a part in the strategy.
NACCHO: CAPT Tosatto, how is the MRC national program office working with the local units to implement the strategy?
CAPT Tosatto: That’s a great question because our job is to help facilitate the whole network of almost 1,000 MRC units and over 200,000 volunteers. We try to help strengthen and sustain the entire network through the coordination that we provide, as well as the technical assistance resources. Also we help to promote and recognize the MRC and also help to connect with national-level partners. Some of those include organizations like the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health who through a consensus building process developed core competencies for disaster medicine and public health. We’ve recently adopted that set of competencies as a foundation for the MRC and have built upon that for the MRC Core Competencies. Also, we’ve engaged closely with youth groups throughout the nation like the 4-H Club and especially with an organization called HOSA-Future Health Professionals to encourage youth engagement in public health and in volunteerism, ultimately helping to build national health security and hopefully promote future volunteers and future health leaders.
NACCHO: There were some major updates this year to the strategy. Can you talk a little bit about those changes and how it will improve the nation’s health security and global security as a whole?
CAPT Tosatto: The original National Health Security Strategy was very federal. It had a lot of things that the federal government was going to do. The update focuses more on a national strategy, so things that everybody can do. From individuals, things they can do to promote their health and the health of their neighbors and communities all the way up to things that the federal government can do. But it especially focuses on things at that local and state level, so things that can be done to improve resiliency, improving that social connectedness. What it takes for a community to come together to bond is going to help them before a disaster and hopefully in the event that a disaster happens, they’ll be able to adapt and recover quicker because of that. But it also looks at ways to improve the distribution of medical countermeasures so if there is a pandemic or a bioterrorist attack there are better ways to get medications out to people, and ways to improve situational awareness so that we know what is going on in communities and states around the nation. Ways to improve that so that awareness is there and we know what resources are needed and where instead of it being a question. Finally, with the health system, taking into account all parts of the system not just hospitals, but looking at public health, looking at emergency management. Where are the intersections? Because oftentimes in the past, those have been siloed organizations or siloed functions. Bringing them together, bringing them to the table so that they interact throughout the year and it’s not a surprise when they have to work together in the event of an emergency. So doing things routinely, working together and then in the event of an emergency, they can scale up to meet the needs of that community.
NACCHO: Kara, taking from what CAPT Toasatto just said with these new strategies and implementing them at the local level, can you describe what that process has been like?
Kara: One thing that I really like about the National Health Security Strategy document is that it’s very comprehensive and it’s very easy to read and easy to understand. It’s really written so that as a volunteer coordinator, as someone from a local health department, I can go through this document and see the vision that we all have for our nation to be prepared and to be health secure. When I go through this document, they have the objectives and the priorities, but then it also has activities for each priority that really drill down to look at, yes there are things that the federal government can do, but it talks about specific things that local governments can do, that community-based organizations can do, like the Medical Reserve Corps. So I can go through and see not only that things that I’m already doing match a lot of the objectives, priorities, and activities listed in the strategy but see where we can go from here. What else can we be looking to do to expand our ability to improve health security?
NACCHO: Being at the 2015 Preparedness Summit as we are right now, CAPT Tosatto, is it interesting to get that local perspective face-to-face?
CAPT Tosatto: Absolutely, as the director of the Medical Reserve Corps with so many MRC units it’s difficult to know what each one is doing, but this gives an opportunity to learn what Kara is doing, learn what her colleagues are doing around the nation. I had somebody come to me and say, “Why are you going to all the MRC sessions?” I said, well because I need to know what the MRCs are doing! Even though I do get the activity reports and I hear reports from our regional coordinators, hearing directly from the MRC leaders who are here and presenting, learning what they’re doing in their presentations is fantastic but also being part of the audience and listening to what the questions are, and the interactions from the audience with the presenters is equally as important. Because I’m hearing about other successes, I’m hearing about other challenges and the sharing that goes on between the audience members with the presenters and back and forth is so important. I learn what some of the trends are and what we may be able to do from the national office to help either promote those successes, to share the resources that are being talked about here, but then also if those challenges are being identified, trying to figure out ways we can help to address those challenges or at least raise them up our chain so that others are aware of them as well.
NACCHO: Kara, last question. Do you have any tips as to how to integrate the National Health Security Strategy into the operations and strategy of local health departments?
Kara: I think that if local health departments read through the strategies and just go through the document and see what speaks to you. I think that when you hear National Health Security Strategy it sounds like a scary federal document. But it’s really like CAPT Tosatto said, it’s not a federal document it’s a national document. So right away when you start reading through activities you can see hey we’re doing this, we’re already accomplishing this, we’re already making a difference in our communities. If you’re local government just look through the activities, see what says “local governments can” and see if you’re doing those things or what you can start doing to try and meet those objectives.
CAPT Tosatto: And can I build on that a little bit? I was involved in the previous National Health Security Strategy as one of the strategic objective coordinators for workforce and I was involved in the development of this. And what Kara is saying is absolutely what we wanted to see from this revised document. We want this to be a dynamic document and so going through for an MRC or local health department and see ok what pertains to me is great but also then looking at those objectives and priority areas and saying well, we’re doing this and it relates to that objective of building social connectedness. When we were developing those actions well there’s so many, that list could have been 15 pages for each priority area but we kept it limited because we want that to be the spark for what others are doing because it is dynamic. It’s a national document.ks to you. I think that when you hear National Health Security Strategy it sounds like a scary federal document. But it’s really like CAPT Tosatto said, it’s not a federal document it’s a national document. So right away when you start reading through activities you can see hey we’re doing this, we’re already accomplishing this, we’re already making a difference in our communities. If you’re local government just look through the activities, see what says “local governments can” and see if you’re doing those things or what you can start doing to try and meet those objectives.