In the event of a large-scale public health emergency, the need for surge capacity of health and medical systems would be critical. The K HELPS program will allow public health officials to register health professionals, apply emergency credentialing standards and allow for the verification of the identity, credentials and qualifications of prospective volunteers. As of August 2009, the system is now also being used to register providers who are interested in providing the H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine in the fall.
Since 2003, the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) program has grown rapidly across the U.S. Sponsored by the Office of the Surgeon General, MRC programs have been developed to supplement existing local public health and emergency preparedness initiatives. In Kentucky, all 120 counties are now covered by a registered MRC, with most units sponsored by local health departments in conjunction with local emergency management agencies.
The new K HELPS program was designed to complement existing local MRC programs. Because state K HELPS and local MRC units will work together, the programs will require reduced manpower to coordinate. A volunteer can register with K HELPS online and choose the local MRC unit associated with the volunteer’s geographical area. The K HELPS system will verify credentials of the volunteer and notify the local health department to complete the approval process. The local MRC unit will provide an orientation, offer training, and issue an identification badge for the volunteer. The K HELPS system has the ability to alert volunteers by either email, telephone call, or both. Local MRC units will also have administrative rights to alert and activate volunteers when needed.
To meet surge capacity needs, a variety of volunteers would be needed. Current emphasis is being placed on having physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, radiological technologists, respiratory therapists, and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians registered, credentialed, and trained. To help meet behavioral health surge capacity needs, K HELPS is partnering with the Kentucky Community Crisis Response Board (KCCRB) to allow psychologists, counselors, and therapists to become involved. The system was designed to allow volunteers to get involved at any level. No training is required to be approved at the first level in the MRC group. Volunteers will also be afforded the opportunity to take online training or participate in regional disaster drills and exercises.
For more information on the K HELPS program, please call (502) 564-7243 option #3 for the Public Health Preparedness Branch.