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Advances with alternative and complementary care practitioners in SERV-OR

Advances with alternative and complementary care practitioners in SERV-OR

By Eric Gebbie
Oregon's Public Health Division has greatly increased the number of alternative and complementary health care practitioners in its official State Emergency Registry of Volunteers in Oregon (SERV-OR). 
Like all states, Oregon has been mandated and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to manage a statewide Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals (ESAR-VHP), and, like most states, it has focused on key professions, such as nurses and physicians. 
However, in 2011 the state program officers initiated a challenging program expansion through the integration of alternative and complementary care practitioners, including licensed acupuncturists, naturopathic physicians and chiropractors. 
The expansion encountered challenges such as varied personal experience with, knowledge of, and biases about such fields of alternative and complementary practice.
Pursuing the integration of such professionals was based on three assumptions: (1) they are professionals who were licensed by the state to provide care; (2) there is demand for their services in non-emergencies, so there would be demand for their services in the wake of public health emergencies; (3) any such practitioners interested in volunteering for disaster response would bring skills, commitment and social capital to the volunteer program and the broader network of stakeholders involved. 
Over two years, a process of outreach and engagement through meetings, focus groups and more, increased the number of practitioners from two acupuncturists and one naturopathic physician to 69 licensed acupuncturists, 44 naturopathic physicians and 40 chiropractors, among the highest proportion of participation per capita of licensees among all licensed health care professionals in Oregon.
Their activities in SERV-OR events is expected to increase.  The first official SERV-OR deployment of an acupuncturist to provide care occurred as part of the Vigilant Guard exercise in May 2012.  At that major National Guard-led three-day exercise, one SERV-OR volunteer was given a command tent in order to provide supportive care to local responders and members of the National Guard working through the evening.  Chiropractors have been a strong contingent at Project Connect of Central Oregon for several years.
The next stage is to better define the operational structure and conditions for alternative and complementary care practitioners deployed for disaster response.  Responding to concerns of volunteer acupuncturists who are not sure that their skills will be appropriate, SERV-OR staff have partnered with Acupuncturists Without Borders to develop formal definitions of acupuncture teams, their composition, resource needs and capabilities. 
SERV-OR members and stakeholders are invited to provide feedback on the draft acupuncturists team definitions and suggest future initiatives related to alternative and complementary care practitioners.  Please contact Eric Gebbie.

These recent programmatic advances will also be presented at the 141st Annual Meeting and Exposition of the American Public Health Association in November.


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