By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) provides a number of support services for those affected by tornadoes and other natural disasters. These services are made possible in part by a dedicated group of statewide volunteers.
Following storms which hit Oklahoma on March 25th this year, state and local health department staff partnered with volunteers from the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps (OKMRC) to provide services including immunizations, first aid, psychological support and assistance to families transitioning from a shelter into temporary housing.
Nearly 100 OKMRC volunteers provided animal, medical and mental health services at the disaster site in Sand Springs, the American Red Cross shelter in Sapulpa and at the service centers in Moore and Sapulpa.
Volunteers also worked with the Humane Emergency Animal Response Team (HEART) to provide essential animal rescue and pet supplies such as food, collars, leashes, dog beds and cat litter.
HEART volunteers also provided a mobile, on-site animal shelter for residents who were dislocated and not able to keep their animals while staying in a shelter.
Tulsa volunteer Terri Nordstrom has work with OKMRC, in various capacities, for the last few years. However, her first experience working a disaster site was after the March tornado. It struck a mobile home park in Sand Springs where she served as a staging liaison.
Her job was to ensure clients received the necessary services in addition to supervising staff and providing first aid. She said she was moved by the attitude and appreciation of the clients she served.
“They were so positive,” said Nordstrom. “Even though they lost everything, they still took the time to show appreciation for everything being done for them. It gives me chill bumps and brings me to tears. Hearing their stories was heartbreaking and humbling.”
OSDH Emergency Manager Darrell Eberly said, “The quality level of expertise which is donated through the volunteers of the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps allows for the highest level of appropriate care for Oklahomans affected by disasters.
“The people of Oklahoma have an incredible inherent generosity in the way we respond to all types of disasters,” said Eberly. “It is through the efforts of these local volunteers that we can get Oklahomans rapidly on the path to recovery following all types of disasters.”
Currently, there are nearly 5,000 OKMRC members throughout the state. Many are volunteers who are practicing or retired medical professionals, doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, pharmacists, hospital-based workers, nurse assistants, veterinarians, dentists and others with health/medical training.
In addition, community citizens without medical training are needed to assist the primary health teams with administrative assistance, communications, record keeping and other support functions.
Upon entering the program, volunteers are trained in a community’s emergency procedures, trauma response techniques, use of specialized equipment and other information.
The OKMRC Administrative Team recently announced Lezlie Carter, of Edmond, as their new State Coordinator.
“I am excited and proud to be a part of an organization of dedicated volunteers who are willing and ready to contribute their skills and expertise to emergency preparedness, response and recovery efforts in their communities,” said Carter. “Following severe weather on May 6, OKMRC volunteers have provided medical and mental health support at the American Red Cross shelter in south Oklahoma City.
Carter told The City Sentinel that nine OKMRC medical professionals volunteered a total of 47 hours, seeing a total of 27 residents at the shelter in four days. She also noted that thirteen OKMRC Stress Response Team volunteers have had 97 contacts with residents at the shelter since the storms.
“The OKMRC Stress Response Team has also provided professionals at the American Red Cross Multi-Agency Response Centers in south Oklahoma City and Blanchard, assisting 55 individuals,” Carter said.
OKMRC volunteers are both medical and community volunteers who are working to improve the wellness and resilience in their communities and are ready to make a difference when help is needed most.
OKMRC training is continuously offered so that volunteers are trained and prepared. Individuals can visit OKMRC.org to volunteer and to learn more about the organization.