A volunteer nurse gathers nasal swabs at a drive-through testing site in Bremerton, Washington. A team delivers food to vulnerable community members in Framingham, Massachusetts. A unit in Columbus, Ohio, conducts temperature checks and assists at a shelter for homeless community members who test positive for coronavirus or COVID-19. Volunteers in New Mexico assemble and pack boxes for food banks. In each community, neighbors, coworkers, kids’ schoolteachers, and patients recognize them.
All have one thing in common: They are volunteers with the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), and around 250 state and local units are working in all regions across the country in response to COVID-19. They are engaged in many aspects of the public health and medical response to the pandemic, including community outreach, patient testing and monitoring, contact tracing, providing medical surge support at hospitals, and setting up and managing alternate care sites.
The MRC is a national network of volunteers, organized locally, that comprises approximately 175,000 members in some 850 community-based units throughout the United States. They are medical and public health professionals, as well as other community members without healthcare backgrounds.
With a reputation for reliability and expertise, MRC volunteers are often called by local and state authorities to respond to emergencies that strain resources beyond their capacity.
The missions are many and as varied as the needs of the individual communities, and those of their most vulnerable neighbors. There is no way I could recognize even a tenth of the units or their missions in this brief note. But I do want to give a sense, for those who do not know the MRC’s work, of the diversity of demands on each of these units, and their agility and flexibility to respond to them.
Sometimes, a unit provides a good example of both, the diversity and the number of missions that need to be tackled simultaneously. That’s the case of the Dutchess County MRC unit, in Poughkeepsie, New York, whose medical and mental health professionals conducted rounds three times a day with 100 sick homeless individuals who are staying in housing provided by the county.
As Dutchess County was preparing to open a recovery center, an alternate care site to provide services should local hospitals exceed their capacity, around 50 Dutchess County MRC members were trained to operate the facility.
Meanwhile, the unit’s volunteers are staffing a call center seven days a week; and remotely monitoring individuals and families in quarantine. To support the stay-at-home orders and ensure that everyone in the community is cared for, the unit is delivering groceries and medications to individuals in isolation; helping with grocery deliveries from food banks to those without transportation; and providing meals for senior citizens.
More than 1,300 volunteers from the New York City MRC unit have staffed healthcare facilities and nursing homes across the five boroughs, as well as supported mortuary operations at local hospitals.
In the nation’s capital, the volunteers with the District of Columbia MRC unit are assisting with COVID-19 walk-up, drive-through, and clinic testing operations.
The state of Louisiana has been hit hard by COVID-19, and the New Orleans MRC unit has responded accordingly by continuously expanding its response missions. Its volunteers are monitoring temperatures at a nursing home and municipal building and providing basic medical support for homeless community members now housed in hotels in the area. The unit also provides logistical assistance at an alternate care site and has physicians, behavioral health, triage, registration, and specimen packaging support personnel working at a community-based testing site.
In Lake Charles, the Calcasieu MRC unit was called into action to support the local community-based drive-through testing site, and MRC volunteers are coordinating the procurement, storage, and delivery of supplies. The unit is also coordinating the logistics and warehousing of the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to manage COVID-19 response efforts.
The magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic is only comparable to the unprecedented expanse of the response to it. I’m proud of the work all units of the Medical Reserve Corps are doing, and I’m touched by the willingness and humility of all volunteers to jump into whatever the needed task is at that moment.
MRC units are assisting with call center operations; community education and outreach (e.g., assisting elderly and vulnerable community members with well check calls, temperature monitoring, errands, food distribution, medication pick-up); logistics support (e.g., inventorying and distributing personal protective equipment, setting up drive-through tents and mobile field hospitals); patient case and contact investigations; patient monitoring; community screening and testing operations; and surge support at long term care facilities, health care facilities, and alternate care sites (including emergency isolation shelters).
It is clear to me, once again, that when the MRC volunteers are called to respond to an emergency in their communities, they are also responding to another calling, their own.
They have my gratitude and that of their communities and the nation for their tireless efforts and for their professionalism, dedication, and commitment to serve.