PHILADELPHIA — Two government-affiliated programs provide a way for physicians and other health care professionals to serve as volunteers in the event of a national, regional, or local emergency, Dr. Anand K. Parekh said at the annual meeting of the American College of Physicians.
The Medical Reserve Corps (www.medicalreservecorps.gov
The Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals (www.hrsa.gov/esarvhp
Those who are interested in volunteering should contact their state public health departments, said Dr. Parekh, a medical officer in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness and special assistant to the science adviser to the secretary of HHS.
In general, the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is an option for those who want to become actively involved in volunteer services by receiving training in advance as part of a local unit. The Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals (ESAR-VHP), on the other hand, functions more as a reserve unit: The state keeps your name on file and calls only if an emergency arises.
Both groups were involved in the response to Hurricane Katrina. In the communities directly hit, 6,000 MRC volunteers supported local relief efforts. Another 1,500 MRC volunteers from elsewhere expressed willingness to deploy to the affected areas, and 600 of them actually did so.
Along with the 13 established ESAR-VHP state systems, another 7 state systems were temporarily launched within 2 weeks after the hurricane hit. In all, more than 8,300 health professional volunteers assisted Katrina victims through ESAR-VHP, Dr. Parekh said.
Both of the programs are still evolving, and currently efforts are underway to standardize the credentialing procedures and to increase pre-event training opportunities.
As of now, only “federalized” volunteers who engage in a national emergency response receive liability protection. Some states and localities also provide such protection; however, it is not uniform throughout the country.