Medical Reserve Corps: Ready to Respond in an Emergency

Grace Allen
Issue Date: 
March, 2018
Article Body: 

Norfolk is in the process of re-establishing its defunct Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). The MRC is a volunteer group of medical and non-medical residents who are trained to assist emergency response teams during natural or man-made disasters, or medical emergencies like pandemic flu. They can also assist with public health initiatives, such as vaccination clinics, screenings, and health education.
Board of Health member Fran Sullivan is helping re-start the town’s MRC. Sullivan is retired from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, where she was a health care facility surveyor. She has also worked in hospitals and private laboratories as a clinical microbiologist.
 “In all the capacities I have worked, emergency preparedness has always been front and center to any organization,” said Sullivan. “I feel strongly that Norfolk should have a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan. However, a town the size of Norfolk also needs community support to ensure readiness if an emergency should arise.”
The nationwide, community-based MRC program falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Emergency Management, and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Established after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the program’s goal is to train civilians to help out during an emergency if the police and fire departments are overwhelmed.
Norfolk’s MRC is a member of Region 4A, a group of 33 communities with close to 1,500 volunteers. Each community in Region 4A organizes its own volunteers, but in the case of a large-scale emergency, has access to volunteers from the other communities.
Region 4A volunteer coordinator Amy Hansen said MRC volunteers are offered training in first aid, CPR, and NARCAN administration, as well as online FEMA classes to help them understand the National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System. Psychological first aid training is provided to volunteers, and information on running and staffing a shelter. MRC volunteers learn how to set up an emergency dispensing site for vaccines, or antibiotics in case of an anthrax outbreak. A tourniquet training course (“Stop the Bleed”) is also offered.
“Unfortunately, in this age of mass shootings, it’s important to teach the general public how to apply a tourniquet and maybe save somebody’s life,” said Hansen.
MRC members learn to work together as a team, while augmenting and coordinating with the police and fire departments in an incident. Sullivan said both departments are represented in the MRC.
“We’re a small town, so they are involved,” said Sullivan. “They come to our meetings, and we are working under them to support them. They know that if there were a huge emergency, they can’t handle it all.”
Norfolk Fire Chief Coleman Bushnell agreed, saying a volunteer network that has trained and practiced to assist in a large-scale emergency will be ready to help the professionals if necessary.
“Obviously the Fire Department appreciates the efforts of the MRC, and under disaster conditions would integrate their staffing into a collective means to provide the best possible service to the community,” said Chief Bushnell.
MRC volunteers must undergo periodic background checks, and all professional licenses are verified.
“After 9/11, people wanted to help but weren’t credentialed,” said Sullivan. “No one knew who these people were.”
MRC volunteers include physicians, physician assistants, pharmacists, dentists, optometrists, veterinarians, EMTs, toxicologists, and mental health practitioners.
Non-medical volunteers include administrative support staff, chaplains, supply and logistic managers, amateur radio operators, people experienced with special needs populations, and drivers of heavy machinery.
An important role of the MRC is to provide education for residents on developing their own emergency preparedness plan. Sullivan said the Board of Health website will include information on how families can prepare and respond to a crisis. The website will also include a checklist for pet owners (see accompanying article).
Hansen says MRC members are encouraged to have their own family emergency kits ready to go, so they’re always prepared.
“Their own family plans should be in place so they are ready to help,” said Hansen. “So if an emergency were to happen, they are not panicked and frantically putting things together.”
BOH member Sullivan believes the MRC will offer Norfolk residents a way to be part of disaster preparedness, and to serve their community in times of need.
“The Boston Marathon bombing was so horrific, and people just had to step up to the plate,” said Sullivan. “They were just thrown into things. People want to help. We’re just hoping we can provide an opportunity where if people are trained and feel confident, they’ll be willing to step up and do whatever needs to be done.”
For more information about Norfolk’s Medical Reserve Corps, or to volunteer, contact the Board of Health office at 508-528-7747 or email [email protected]. Wrentham residents interested in the MRC can contact Amy Hansen at 617-459-2108 or email [email protected]