On July 30, the Fairfax County Health Department (VA) hosted NACCHO staff members Alyson Jordan and Kim Grimmick for an MRC site visit. During this site visit, NACCHO staff spoke to the health department’s leadership about their relationship with the MRC unit. This discussion also focused on on-going activities and trainings offered to MRC volunteers and areas where NACCHO could provide additional support to MRC units overall.
Fairfax MRC was originally founded as a six-physician task-force by the Fairfax County Health Department in response to the 2001 anthrax attacks. It joined the national MRC program in 2004 and soon grew to its peak of over 5,000 volunteers. Over the past few years, the program has focused on maintaining a higher number of active volunteers, with over 600 active volunteers currently. Samantha Brann, MRC Coordinator, indicated that “while the number of volunteers overall has decreased, participation continues to increase. In 2013, 18% of our members participated in an activity, event, training or activation; since January 2014, 69% of our members have done so. The average participation rate has increased from 45 volunteers per month in 2013 to 58 volunteers per month for the first 6 months in 2014.”
Fairfax MRC volunteers provide administrative and special support to the Health Department, serving on committees, as special advisors, and assisting in the department’s offices. Volunteers serve in administrative roles within the Health Department, such as helping transcribe employee health records digitally. Upcoming and ongoing activities include back-to-school fairs where volunteers will assist with Tdap clinics; multiple season influenza vaccination clinics; and preparedness outreach events during National Preparedness Month, including the Ready-Set-Know Festival.
Historically, Fairfax MRC was an emergency-response only unit, and volunteers were focused on supporting the Health Department during public health emergencies, such as opening Point of Dispensing sites. More recently, Fairfax MRC has expanded the role of the program, and is looking for more ways to engage volunteers while maintaining and enhancing their response capacity. Volunteers from Fairfax MRC have been activated to support the Health Department in three emergency responses: H1N1 (2009), a large-scale tuberculosis investigation (2013), and a multi-jurisdictional measles investigation this year. In all three, volunteers provided medical and non-medial support, assisting in the agency call center, providing vaccinations/tests, flow, administrative support, and serving as Safety Officers.
Finally, volunteers have participated in local, regional and statewide exercises, serving both as actors-victims to provide responders with a more realistic training scenario, and as medical and non-medical roles. Fairfax MRC offers monthly training opportunities for volunteers to participate in, allowing them to enhance their skills and increase their capacity to serve during an emergency. Fairfax MRC also collaborates with the Virginia Department of Health, neighboring MRC’s and local Citizen Corps programs to increase training opportunities for members. Thus far in 2014, volunteers have participated in 16 different trainings. NACCHO staff will attend an upcoming exercise on August 19 that brings together Fairfax MRC and other MRC units from Northern Virginia.