Public Health Preparedness

During the past few years Nicollet County has been involved in public health disaster preparedness. Of the many lessons learned during our planning and disaster preparedness exercises, the most important is that it will take the entire community working together to respond to any public health emergency involving a serious infectious disease such as a pandemic influenza event.

During a Public Health Emergency
During a public health emergency it is anticipated that there will be extreme workforce shortages that will seriously jeopardize public health’s ability to respond effectively. Workforce shortages will be limited because of the small number of staff nurses employed in public health. Additionally, during a public health emergency, it is anticipated that 30-40% of public health staff will be unavailable because either a staff member or a family member has been exposed or is ill, limiting our workforce capacity even further.

Staff from the medical clinics, hospitals, or pharmacies would also have equally stressful challenges in continuing operations during a public health emergency. Consequently, public health cannot count on their staff to assist us. Since every county in Minnesota will be dealing with similar workforce shortages, assistance from outside the county will not be available either.

Expanding the Volunteer Workforce
Consequently, we are looking to enhance our workforce capacity with other traditional and nontraditional workforce possibilities such as dentists, veterinarians, and farmers that could be deployed to help with a mass dispensing clinic. Giving injections or administering medication, whether a human or an animal, is a transferable skill that could be utilized during a public health emergency with just-in-time training, or training prior to the opening of a mass dispensing clinic. Appropriate protective equipment (masks, gloves) would be provided to volunteers when indicated.

Registering as a Volunteer
These and many other skills will be needed to help in a public health emergency. You are encouraged to log on to Minnesota Responds () and register to be a volunteer. Minnesota Responds is a national initiative that coordinates and mobilizes volunteers that have pre-registered to respond in an emergency. This system was used to call up volunteers during the recent floods and other disasters.

Anyone with an interest in volunteering is invited to register at the Minnesota Responds website whether you are in a health field, active or retired, or a non-traditional person that could be of help in assisting in a health response.

Registration Process
The registration process will take about 15 minutes. You will be asked questions that indicate specific tasks that you are willing to help with as well as designating the specific geographical area for your volunteer work. Working together as a community will be essential for an effective and efficient response to a public health emergency.