Putnam’s Medical Reserve Corps Volunteers Learn New Skills as Health Department Kicks Off Continuing Ed at All-Day Training Conference

CARMEL, NY—Volunteers for the Putnam County Medical Reserve Corps got an early look at a new FBI resilience training, developed for agents at the FBI’s NY office, and heard from local harm reduction specialist Lauren Johnson, the community engagement facilitator at the Prevention Council of Putnam. Ms. Johnson introduced the concept of harm reduction to reduce opioid overdose deaths and to strengthen countywide response to these emergencies. The sessions were part of an all-day conference, coordinated by the Putnam County Department of Health, which also included a primer on suicide prevention and an eye-opening presentation on fentanyl and fake pills. Held at Centennial Golf Course in Carmel, it was part of the department’s continuing education program for MRC volunteers in a post-pandemic world. Next on the training agenda is a more in depth, online suicide prevention training that can be taken at one’s own pace.

Carmel resident Sue Moore, a volunteer since 2010 with the “MRC” as it is commonly known, praised the experience, saying, “Each speaker presented practical information in their respective topics. The discussion on suicide prevention called ‘Talk Saves Lives,’ for example, really emphasized the importance of simply listening to someone who may be reaching out to you.” Ms. Moore also applauded the resilience training demonstration, which walked the audience through exercises to improve response time and how this can support resilience.

The Prevention Council also received all-around praise for their harm reduction efforts. Ms. Moore added that, “The county has gotten behind this initiative and lives are being saved! I now carry naloxone in my car, after having taken an earlier training.” Naloxone is a nasal spray that can be administered by anyone to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The Good Samaritan Law is in place to protect those who give it to someone and call 911. Ms.  Johnson explained the use of naloxone in a non-judgmental way, advancing public health efforts to transform this intervention, once not fully understood or accepted, into a trusted, and often embraced solution.

Nearly two hundred “naloxone boxes” have been set up throughout the county, including one in every Putnam County public building. Like the more common AEDs (automatic external defibrillators) that are easy to use, naloxone boxes provide the life-saving medication that can reverse an opioid overdose if given in time. Training and naloxone kits are available for interested individuals and more information is available from The Prevention Council of Putnam’s website at http://preventioncouncilputnam.org/

Mahopac resident Keiren Farquhar also praised the work of the Prevention Council and the work being done to train MRC volunteers. Ms. Farquhar has been involved in Putnam’s MRC since its inception in 2004, first helping to launch the group as its coordinator, and then as a volunteer, so she is familiar with the challenges of keeping volunteers engaged. Now as a volunteer herself, she praised the “boots on the ground” work of the Prevention Council. She also commended the health department in encouraging naloxone training for volunteers. “We used MRC volunteers for flu clinics back in the days of the ‘H1N1” virus [commonly known as the “swine flu”] and of course they were key to Putnam’s COVID pandemic response, but it’s vital to preparedness to keep involvement ongoing, and the opioid epidemic is another public health crisis in great need of support.”

The conference speakers were carefully selected to provide a mix of learning experiences by Connie Bueti, the emergency preparedness coordinator at the health department. “The COVID pandemic drove home the importance of the MRC,” Ms. Bueti said “In Putnam, we were fortunate to have an infrastructure in place. Post-COVID, surrounding counties have recognized the importance of volunteers, so they they are now starting and formalizing their MRCs. We’ve received grant funding and are developing a program to sustain engagement and broaden skills. We want our volunteers to be prepared and educated on different topics in public health. Mental health problems and suicides, opioid overdoses and personal burnout are some of the topics that need to be addressed.”

The speaker line-up included: Teresa Blakeslee, MRC liaison for Region II (NY, NJ, PR, VI) who spoke on “MRC United in Service—We Can, We Did!”; Sean Gerow, CEO for Family Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania, whose topic was “Talk Saves Lives;” Bruce May, the Employees Assistance Coordinator for the FBI’s NY office who discussed “Building Resilience: Shielding Yourself From Negative Effects of Adversity;” Barbara Haggerty, formerly a Supervisory Intelligence Research Specialist with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who talked about “Fentanyl and Fake Pills;” and Lauren Johnson from Putnam’s Prevention Council.

For more information or to join Putnam’s Medical Reserve Corps, visit: www.putnamcountyny.com/mrcvolunteer/

The mission of the Putnam County Department of Health, nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB), is to improve and protect the health of the Putnam County community, composed of nearly 100,000 residents. Core services include community health assessment, disease surveillance and control, emergency preparedness, environmental health protection, family health promotion and health education. For more information, please visit our county website at www.putnamcountyny.com, or visit our social media sites on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @PutnamHealthNY.