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Medical Reserve Corps in Oregon Trains Locals in Disaster Prep

Educating citizens about ensuring that they have their prescription medications during a disaster was one lesson in a recent session conducted by the Medical Reserve Corps, which is also helping assemble response teams.

by Jim McKay / September 17, 2019

One crisis that occurs within a disaster is that often, people who count on medical prescriptions find themselves unable to get those medications when a disaster hits and are left without as they either shelter in place or evacuate.

To that end, the Medical Reserve Corps in Oregon held a learning session recently on how to obtain prescription drugs and manage pain without medication in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

The event featured speakers, including Nate Nerenberg, a pharmacist and manager of the pharmacy department at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria, Ore., who spoke about how to obtain prescription drugs during a disaster. Kathleen Bell, a registered nurse at the American Holistic Nurses Association, spoke about how to relieve pain without the benefit of drugs.

The event, which was advertised in the local paper and via flyers that were included in local utility bills, garnered 35 residents. It was the first public event for the Medical Reserve Corps, which since 2015 has trained its volunteer members on how to respond during disasters.

“Primarily we were focused on supporting people who have medications they have to take, and they learned how to acquire medications in advance and during a disaster,” said Lila Wickham, co-coordinator of the Medical Reserve Corps. “People with a heart condition or diabetes or any chronic illness know they need to have their medications, but they are just not sure what to do about it.”

A recent survey by Healthcare Ready found that 37 percent of Americans can go a week or less without their medications or medical devices before facing a medical crisis.

In his presentation, Nerenberg implored citizens to have a kit and include medical information in it, including a typed copy of prescriptions with expiration dates and drug allergies, as well as supplements, equipment and needed supplies so that a doctor or pharmacist could use the list to help in an emergency.

Bell discussed multiple evidence-based methods for pain relief and pain management in the absence of emergency care and how to comfort those in need during a disaster.

Wickham said a storm in 2007 brought winds of more than 100 miles per hour, downed trees and shut off power for six days. It brought a realization that the communities would have to work together during future storms. The Medical Reserve Corps has been training its members for years, but this was the first community training.

The Medical Reserve Corps recently conducted a survey in Clatsop County for the eventual purpose of identifying “teams” that will need to prepare themselves in the event of a disaster. In any “significant disaster,” the area will be little islands, separated from one another. The survey helped identify who lives within each of those areas that would become “islands.”

“The first step in organizing that was we had neighborhood meetings — the chief of police, emergency manager consultant — convened neighborhood groups and talked about safety and preparedness,” Wickham said.

“The next step was to do a survey, which again, went out in the utility bill, and people responded by neighborhood configurations so we could identify where the people with chronic disease or disabilities are.”

The next step is to reconvene those groups and begin working on developing assets for each of the groups, and develop working relationships. “The concept is that we would be isolated islands, so you want the neighborhood to be as self-sufficient as possible,” Wickham said. “It fits into a larger umbrella of citywide emergency preparedness, but the concept is to be self-reliant as a team.”

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