It’s just past noon at the St. Vincent DePaul Food Bank in SoDo and the space is humming with activity. A woman wearing a black fleece vest cheerfully approaches a man as he makes his way through the end of the table lined with packaged food. He looks up and gives her a warm smile of recognition, then follows her to small medical treatment room so that he can talk to her about a recent health concern.
The woman in the black fleece vest is one of over 800 King County Public Health Reserve Corps (PHRC) volunteers. They are there twice a week, every week, mingling with food bank clients and providing health consultations and wound care. It’s just one of the many services performed by the PHRC throughout King County, one the largest and most active Medical Reserve Corps in the nation.
PHRC volunteers provide several thousands of dollars worth of volunteer service to the community each month at places like homeless shelters and drop-in centers. They show up in droves at big events like the Seattle/King County Clinic, where 258 volunteers collectively donated over 7,704 hours of their time in 2015 to support free medical care to those in need.
Medical support when it’s needed most
PHRC volunteers also provide needed surge support to the health department during disasters and emergencies. In 2015, King County PHRC nurses supported the Colville Tribe in central Washington during the wildfires, and PHRC volunteers staffed a support center for families affected by the Aurora Bridge collision between a Ride-the-Duck vehicle and bus. They regularly deploy as first aid teams to Red Cross shelters whenever there is an apartment fire in the region.
Recognition at the national level
This week, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in HHS recognized the King County PHRC with the National Health Security Strategy Award. The award recognizes public health departments that have demonstrated significant accomplishments in building healthy, resilient communities that are better able to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity. (Check out a video featuring PHRC volunteers produced by NACCHO that debuted at the award ceremony.)
“The reason we’re so active is because we have truly amazing volunteers,” said Dave Nichols, manager of the King County PHRC program. “They choose to join the PHRC because they want to give service, so they are often the ones to identify ways to help the community. Participating in service on a regular basis give us practice in working together and keeping our skills up so that we’re ready to provide critical medical support when an emergency happens.”
Putting the community in community resilience efforts
In the past year, the PHRC has paid particular attention to recruiting volunteers who can help provide health services and outreach during disasters to the many people who speak languages other than English in King County. It’s part of the PHRC’s greater mission to
increase resiliency in communities that face disproportional health impacts during disasters.
Carina Elsenboss, Director of Preparedness at Public Health – Seattle & King County, explained how the PHRC program is part of more forward-thinking strategies for public health emergencies: “It’s not just about government doing the response, it’s not just about the government’s ability to manage the consequences of a large scale disaster. It’s about the community coming together—connecting and helping one another. And we’re doing it every day, not just when the big one happens.”
The King County Public Health Reserve Corps needs volunteers in general support roles as well as healthcare provider roles. If you are interested in joining this award-winning program, check out the PHRC website for more information.