Washington County’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) has always been solely funded with county staff time and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Capacity Building Awards. Recent funding cuts have led to decreases in both MRC staff time and fewer dollars from NACCHO.
As a result the Washington County team has gotten creative in efforts to ensure the sustainability of its MRC. Just how were they able to tackle the challenge? In an interview with Danielle Brown, AmeriCorps*VISTA, MRC Volunteer Coordinator, Cynthia Valdivia, Emergency Preparedness Health Educator, and Sue Mohnkern, Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program Supervisor, they share the process and outcomes of the group’s resourceful planning.
What made you realize that you needed to get creative to ensure the sustainability of Washington County’s MRC program?
As the fourth-year AmeriCorps VISTA, Danielle’s job has been to continue the work on sustainability planning for the MRC unit that began in 2009. With budget limitations, and a lack of county staff time, the Washington County MRC had not been able to have meetings, newsletters, trainings, exercises, or networking events on a regular and consistent basis. We knew this wouldn’t be enough, and we needed to figure out how to make up for these losses.
What resources did you turn to?
At the same time that we were weighing the effects of these threats, we joined with the state and a number of other counties to apply for and utilize AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers to help us initially organize and manage our county’s MRC and, more importantly, plan for sustaining this important resource – particularly as our preparedness funding began to decrease.
It was the perfect way to utilize the MRC volunteers by providing needed services and outreach events in our community, and – just as important – the VISTAs were given the opportunity to develop an active and supportive unit that met the qualifications, skills, and interests of the MRC volunteers.
How did the process get launched?
The AmeriCorps*VISTAs began to research models for sustainable practices and units around the country. Several different models for sustainability were explored and presented, and the one using volunteer leaders was identified as the most successful and the best fit for Washington County.
Over time, the VISTAs have interviewed other MRC units who operated with volunteers as leaders and worked with our MRC volunteers on developing four specific Leadership Roles and Board Member positions. Once these roles and positions were defined, the next step involved was talking with the MRC group and determining their interest in volunteering for these leadership positions.
Our January meeting marked the official beginning of our volunteers’ tenure with the voting-in of the full leadership team.
How many volunteers have been involved in the leadership group?
Our Leadership Action Team consists of 10 volunteers as leaders. We have a Team Leader, a Training & Activities Coordinator, a Communications Coordinator, two Volunteer Coordinators, and five Board Members. We’ve been especially fortunate because these volunteers have such great backgrounds, experience, and training from many different areas of healthcare and emergency response.
Our Leadership Action Team is hard at work on developing a mission statement, defining their goals and objectives, creating bylaws, discussing the possibility of an advisory board, investigating social media venues, identifying training needs for the leadership team and other volunteers, and planning a Spring training event.
We’ve also been researching other MRC units that successfully operate as non-profit. We are currently considering this as an option for Washington County MRC, although there are drawbacks to this, so it’s just one of several alternative options.
How have you been working with other MRCs around Oregon?
There are a number of other units in Oregon that are self-sustainable including Nehalem Bay, Columbia County, and Marion County MRC Units, and they’ve been an inspiration for us. The Marion County MRC unit’s structure was especially useful as a model for our leadership team roles.
We aren’t sure if other MRC units around the state are considering similar structural changes, but we’d be happy to share our findings with anyone looking for information.
What are you most inspired by or looking forward to?
I’m very excited to see such a wonderful group of MRC volunteers in these leadership roles. I have no doubt that they will be able to maintain the sustainability of the MRC unit!
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