Behind the scenes, Jeff Corder coordinates Hendricks County’s pandemic response
By Stephanie Dolan
At a time when statistics and images of the coronavirus can invoke fear and paranoia, throughout Hendricks County men and women work behind the scenes to bring calm, order and certainty.
People look out for the county’s residents even when they might feel isolated and vulnerable.
Jeff Corder serves as the health department as a public preparedness coordinator. He spends his days creating plans for situations just like the coronavirus pandemic, including coordinating the medical reserve corps.
To properly respond to public health emergencies like COVID-19, the Hendricks County Health Department teams up with the Hendricks County Medical Reserve Corp.
“A lot of our planning in the past was directed at anthrax emergencies,” said Corder who previously served as a firefighter and paramedic for 26 years at the Brownsburg Fire Territory. “That’s what the federal government kind of saw as our primary response capability. Then they started shifting to pandemic flu because of H1N1, and that was to set up vaccination clinics.”
In this health pandemic, the Hendricks County Health Department serves as the lead agency coordinating efforts.
“I am coordinating all the health and medical resources across the county,” Corder said. “Mainly, what my job has been the last few days has been getting personal protective equipment like masks, gowns, face shields and gloves, anything that I can get from our strategic national stockpile or our health care coalition.”
Corder gets it in, counted, separated and back out to the community including long term care, assisted living, home health care and hospice facilities.
Corder works with Lisé Crouch, Hendricks County Emergency Management coordinator as incident co-directors.
“We can’t plan for everything, but we’re trying to be proactive,” Corder said who wants to be ready if and when testing kits come out.
“We want to be ready with a plan if they do drive-thru testing and with quarantine shelters,” he said. “We’re planning for a large-scale event that hopefully won’t happen, but we want to be there and be proactive so that if it does happen we’re not behind the eight ball.”
This historic event is different from anything Corder has ever dealt with.
“Not just because it’s so large in scale, but because we can’t bring a lot of people together, so we’ve had to be a little bit creative,” he said.
He’s called town managers to brainstorm how to handle drive-thru testing registrations, and that’s the tip of the iceberg.
“All the health department nurses, and all the medical reserve corps people, it comes to me, and then I’m trying to delegate a lot of this,” he said. “They’ve all been extremely helpful.”
That volunteer roster now has 75 people.
“Most of them are FEMA trained,” said Susan Fox, secretary of the medical reserve corps board. “They understand the cascade of the chain of command in an event.”
That’s also important because in a large-scale emergency, towns and counties often go to FEMA for reimbursement of resources, and FEMA examines how many volunteers were FEMA trained before the event, Corder said.
“We try to impress upon the volunteers to get incident command and/or national incident management system trained,” he said. “That way we know that they have a little bit of background knowledge into how things should take place along with the incident command structure.”
Despite the title, the Medical Reserve Corps does not require volunteers to have a medical or military background.
While there are nurses and those with response training on the team, Tom Stempson, corps board vice president, does not have that training. “There’s a place for everybody,” he said.
Stempson and Corder hope that people will see this as a way to help their community. “We want people to volunteer in Hendricks County,” Corder said. “We want the county to be as independent as possible for as long as possible.”
Boosting the volunteer roster would allow Corder to complete the plan he has in place of getting people into points of dispensing (PODS) when necessary. This could involve vaccinating or medicating all 167,000 people in Hendricks County in a matter of 48 hours.
“That’s what my plans are supposed to include,” he said. “I’m planning for that. I wanted to make the Medical Reserve Corps as big and robust as possible because if we had something large, we could pull on this large reserve of volunteers.”
The COVID-19 pandemic became real to him when the first patient was diagnosed in Hendricks County.
“Then there was the second patient in Avon,” he said. “From that day my phone has been ringing off the hook, and there’s been a lot of planning. I have had a lot of sleepless nights.”
The team wants a roster of volunteers to be ready for whatever comes, Fox said. “Check on your neighbors, call older people you know,” she said. “If you’re young and healthy, go out for others to get groceries.”
Even while staying at home and socially isolating, Hendricks County residents can help reduce mental and physical stress of their family, friends and neighbors.
“Support each other, encourage each other, and bring that service to those in need,” Stempson said. “If we work together, that’s the only way we’re all going to get through this.”
Getting to know Jeff Corder:
Who or what inspires you? Ever since I’ve been in the fire service, it’s been the need or want to help people. I became a paramedic or firefighter. That’s been what’s driven me my entire life, that desire to help people.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a doctor, but I watched “Emergency!” and I kind of had that bug for that part of it, too.
Top three favorite Hendricks County charitie:
Hendricks County Community Foundation has a wide net of things they’re involved in. Messiah Lutheran Food Pantry is a good, noble cause. They’ve been working hard through it at our church. And my wife would kill me if I didn’t mention the Hendricks County Humane Society.
Do you have pets? Yes, Molly the dog and Pete the cat.
Do you have a favorite movie? “It’s a Wonderful Life”