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Medical reserve corps explored in St. Lawrence County

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County may create a medical corps of volunteers who can respond to a large-scale public health emergency.

“This would give us a team of people who if needed would react,” said Legislator James A. Bunstone, D-Potsdam. “There are some more questions that need to be answered.”

A decade ago, the Public Health Department had a staff of 140, including 75 nurses who were strategically placed in offices around the county. With the loss of the Certified Home Health Agency and Long-Term Home Health Care Program, the department has 10 registered nurses, along with supporting staff, who are based in Canton.

If there were a medical emergency, such as one in which large numbers of people needed to be vaccinated quickly, the state would turn to Public Health, interim Public Health Director Lorraine B. Kourofsky told legislators recently.

“We would just need the people,” she said. “We want to be organized in what we do. The time to do it is before an emergency so that we know who we have and who we don’t have. I think it’s important to have something formalized.”

The medical reserve corps would consist of health care professionals and other volunteers coordinated by the county emergency preparedness coordinator.

“All this really does is establish a framework,” said Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid. “It’s relatively straightforward. I think it would be valuable for St. Lawrence County.”

Training, which would be minimal and consist mostly of how volunteers would respond in an emergency, would be funded through the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Grant and not exceed $3,500. Other grant opportunities might be possible down the road.

“The ongoing costs are going to be really minimal,” said Debra L. Bridges, the department’s fiscal manager.

Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, raised questions about the county’s liability that county Attorney Michael C. Crowe will research.

Liability is lessened when people know what is expected of them, said Legislator Stephen M. Putman, D-Canton.

“If there’s going to be volunteers, it’s better to have them trained,” he said.

After a medical reserve corps is established, Emergency Services Director Michael J. LeCuyer could include it in a comprehensive emergency response plan, County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

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