Lancaster County forms emergency response group

    A Lancaster County doctor is launching the state’s latest emergency response group. A primary focus of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps will be to train doctors, nurses and other volunteers to respond to disasters that result in mass casualties.

    Dr. Neil Kline, the director of the group, was a resident at Pennsylvania Hospital in the fall of 2001. After the attacks of Sept. 11, he wanted to put his medical skills to use, but he didn’t know where to turn to offer his help.

    “I called several numbers offering my assistance and was frustrated that I wasn’t able to help,” Kline said. “There was no system that would allow me to offer my professional medical services to people in need.”

    He said he quickly realized that many other physicians he knew had the same problem. That prompted him to act. The group he founded will link volunteers, give emergency response training to members of the community, and help with public health outreach efforts. It has funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Health for a medic tent that can be set up to treat patients at the scene of disasters.

    Shannon Fitzgerald of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health helps coordinate 17 medical reserve corps in the state. They’ve been in operation since 2002 when President George W. Bush announced the creation of a nationwide medical reserve corps effort in response to Sept. 11.

    Fitzgerald said having an organized network of trained volunteers in place prior to a disaster reduces the time it takes for help to arrive on the scene.

    “Being engaged ahead of time is really important,” Fitzgerald said. It “ultimately really helps for a smoother response, a more robust response, and ultimately potentially saving lives.”

    Fitzgerald said volunteers with similar groups in Pennsylvania have helped staff H1N1 vaccine clinics, emergency call centers and Red Cross clinics.

    Kline says drills will start next month to teach volunteers how to triage causalities and administer emergency first aid. The group will begin locally, in Lancaster County, but Kline says he hopes to spread to Philadelphia and, eventually, statewide.

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