Commissioned officers with the U.S. Public Health Service have a new platform to gather to share ideas and review advocacy goals.
MOAA’s Board of Directors approved the creation of the Public Health Service Virtual Chapter, which will be a virtual meeting space open to MOAA’s members from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. It’s MOAA’s third virtual chapter.
“We have officers spread out everywhere,” said USPHS Lt. Cmdr. Annie Lam, president of the virtual chapter. “One of the goals is to connect our members because we are so far and few between and may be in remote areas. I think the virtual platform will be different because we can reach a lot more people than we could reach with just a physical chapter.”
[WANT TO JOIN THE USPHS CHAPTER?: Learn More Online]
The idea for the chapter materialized as Col. Peter Kloeber, USAF (Ret), a new MOAA Board Member and the president of MOAA’s Arizona Council of Chapters, said he wanted to connect Public Health Service officers that don’t often find each other in local chapters.
Kloeber formerly served as president of MOAA’s Grand Canyon Chapter in Arizona, which had about a half-dozen Public Health Service officers – some of whom would drive at least 60 miles to attend meetings.
Capt. Pat Williams, USN (Ret), a MOAA program manager who oversees virtual chapters, said she’s happy to see MOAA members connecting and sharing ideas.
“Given the current, ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, ushering in new virtual chapters has taken on a more significant role and means of connecting and networking as we continue to promote MOAA professionals who have a shared affinity like our current three virtual chapters,” she said.
[RELATED: On the Front Lines: USPHS Officers and the COVID-19 Pandemic]
In MOAA’s other virtual chapters, membership has continued to increase. The Surviving Spouse Virtual Chapter, led by Micki Costello and MOAA Board Member Gail Joyce, has 132 members for 30 states. The Uniformed Services Nurse Advocates Virtual Chapter has 301 members in 50 states and territories, including Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
MOAA Board Member Col. Jeri Graham, USA (Ret), president of MOAA’s Uniformed Services Nurse Advocates Virtual Chapter, said the group has put together a toolkit to assist others interested in starting virtual chapters.
About the USPHS
Officers with the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service work day-to-day jobs in medical, health, and engineering professions with government agencies across the country. They’re also on standby for deployments to respond to health emergencies – locally or globally.
Notably, these officers have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lam, who specializes in microbiology, has deployed three times in the past eight months – deployments are expected to continue.
When the officers deploy, they put their day-to-day job on pause and move out to work in short-term positions to coordinate federal public health resources to state and local governments.
Their U.S. duty stations can be in government agency headquarters, but also in prisons or on Indian reservations, making it more difficult for them to belong to physical MOAA chapters.
[RELATED: More Councils and Chapters Resources]
The virtual chapter will be a place for officers to share information, gain insight from retired officers and fold in Reserve officers, who are expected to begin service next year, Lam said.
“That would be one of the greatest values of having a virtual chapter,” she said. “We can talk about different duty stations, working for different agencies. Having that information exchange – having this virtual platform – we’ll be able to do a lot more of that. We can plug into our retired officers. They have a ton of knowledge that would be helpful for newer officers. I see the chapter as a way for people to have a voice.”
Lam said she also hopes to coordinate the chapter efforts with the Commissioned Officers Association of the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she also serves as the president of the Golden Gate Chapter in California. Lam is also the scholarship chair for the MOAA Contra Costa chapter.
“If we can combine efforts and work on things together, it can only be stronger,” she said.
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