Answering the call: More than 100 healthcare volunteers sign up

DOVER — Given the option to take a volunteer spot on the front line against the COVID-19 epidemic, most people would probably just assume take a pass — much too dangerous, little reward and a potential risk to family members.

However, the opportunity to save lives and protect the public is something that is ingrained in the minds of most doctors, nurses and others involved in health care.

Elle Hammond, the Delaware Medical Reserve Corps liaison for the Division of Public Health’s Office of Preparedness, said that’s why more than 100 medical professional volunteers have signed up to volunteer in the fight against the new coronavirus since Gov. John Carney issued his Public Health Emergency Declaration on March 23.

Elle Hammond

“This number is increasing daily, and does not reflect nursing or physician students,” Ms. Hammond said. “It includes out of state or inactive/retired Delaware medical professionals including physicians, advanced practice providers, and nurses. We have around 30 medical professionals in the current roster who have completed their orientation.”

The numbers of Delawareans who have been infected with COVID-19 surged to 1,209 on Thursday and has led to the deaths of 23 individuals throughout the state. There are 201 people hospitalized, with 43 critically ill.

It is those kinds of numbers, which are currently spiking within the state, that led Gov. Carney, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) and the Division of Public Health (DPH) to reach out to any and all medical care providers to volunteer and assist in the public health emergency in late March.

“We’re acting with urgency to prevent a spike in coronavirus cases that could overwhelm our hospital system,” said Gov. Carney, upon issuing the Public Health Emergency Declaration. “These new orders will help make sure Delaware has the supplies and the health care professionals necessary to respond to COVID-19. I want to thank all of Delaware’s health care workers who are on the front lines of our response. We owe you all a debt of gratitude.”

Under the accompanying order from DEMA and DPH:

• Nurses, doctors, mental health care providers, pharmacists and other health care professionals who have active licenses or certificates of good standing in any U.S. jurisdiction are authorized to provide in-person health care services in Delaware throughout the emergency, as well as telemedicine services.

• Delaware health care professionals whose licenses expired in the last five years are authorized to provide health care services in Delaware, assuming their licenses were in good standing for the five-year period.

“The out-of-state providers must have an active license, which means they are either currently working or completing continuing education credits regularly,” said Ms. Hammond. “All volunteers are being asked to complete an orientation process, including an introduction to disaster/emergency response. Depending on specific assignments, DPH offers ‘Just In Time Training.’ Additionally, hospitals can provide onboarding prior to serving in an affiliated site.

“A screening policy was created and is required for all high-risk businesses/facilities. Hospitals are part of this group. In any capacity that volunteers are used, they will also follow (the) policy. It includes monitoring for elevated temperature and asking about relevant symptoms.”

Ms. Hammond added that Delaware has been “fortunate” thus far when it comes to the number of healthcare workers it has available. The DPH Office of Emergency Medical Services has been in communication with hospitals since before the state’s first confirmed case, surveying both census and staffing.

Different approaches to volunteering

There isn’t a one-size fits all approach when it comes to getting healthcare workers to volunteer their time and skills to help in the coronavirus crisis.

There are some who are gung-ho to provide their services to help and care for and protect those who have been stricken by the virus.
“Absolutely,” Ms. Hammond said. “Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are very much team-oriented. They respect the work that their peers are doing and want to help out.”

On the flip side, there is an older group of healthcare workers who are at greater risk when it comes to being exposed to COVID-19.
“Some have opted to exclude themselves given the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 and the increased risks for certain age groups and other medical considerations,” said Ms. Hammond. “The other concern I am hearing is, ‘I’m in good health, but my spouse or other family member I help care for is at increased risk.’ We understand all these concerns and encourage volunteers to do what is best for their specific circumstances.”

Despite the many concerns, getting more than 100 volunteers to help in just a couple of weeks is a relief to Ms. Hammond.

“Recruiting has not been difficult in terms of gathering interested individuals,” she said. “As mentioned, we had more than 100 volunteers express in less than a month. From an administrative side, verifying credentials and organizing information takes a team effort, though.”

Wide variety of needs

While some will be thrown onto the front lines in the battle against the new coronavirus, not every healthcare volunteer is going to be asked to directly work with patients who have contracted COVID-19. It is all a matter of necessity.

“That depends primarily on the needs of the community,” Ms. Hammond said. “Some may be asked to jump right back in, though many will likely work at a lower scope of care or in less critical capacities. We never want to put volunteers in situations where they are uncomfortable and never want a patient to feel like their quality of care has been compromised.”

Ms. Hammond reiterated that COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease and said she easily understands their concerns when it comes to working directly with infected patients.

“As we started readying for COVID-19 to hit Delaware, we reached out to volunteers and posed that concern to them,” she said. “Understandably, some volunteers opted to exclude themselves for this particular response. The other thing to consider is who this volunteer pool is: hardworking, dedicated, compassionate, committed health-care professionals. They have service-oriented hearts. Knowing how much they will give, we are doing everything we can to protect and take care of them.”

The fight against COVID-19 has undoubtedly made for a unique and unusual time across the country.

With many remain stuck in their homes either by themselves or with their families through the pandemic others, such as healthcare workers, go in to work at their “essential” jobs.

Whether healthy or stricken with the new coronavirus, there are numerous unfamiliar variables that the population has been forced to deal with.

“COVID-19 has created a unique concern,” Ms. Hammond said. “Some patients may be able to be discharged from a hospital setting, but someone in their home is quarantined so the patient may not be able to go home yet; or they may have home care needs that are unable to be met at home currently, but do not require a continued hospital stay; or there may be individuals who need monitoring or medicine management.

“In healthcare, minimal medical needs like these examples are referred to as low-acuity, and we anticipate this being a potential need in Delaware in the coming days.”

And more than 100 volunteer healthcare workers in Delaware are ready to help out in any way they can.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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