Local volunteers who make up the Medical Reserve Corps are perhaps the best kept secret in emergency response, said Judith Scarborough, unit coordinator for the MRC of North Idaho.
These volunteers, many of whom are retired medical workers, work vaccine clinics, staff shelters for disasters such as this summer’s wildfires and work medical and public health education booths at fairs and health clinics.
Units in both North Idaho and Eastern Washington are always looking for more volunteers who are ready to activate at a moment’s notice. Medical specialists such as mental health workers, dentists and pharmacists are needed, but so are people without medical training . About four nonmedical volunteers are needed for every medical professional, and they help with organization, leadership and setting up makeshift clinics.
“Those men who don’t think they can offer anything, we can use you,” Scarborough said. “We need strong backs and people who can figure out things.”
Dave Byrnes, coordinator of the MRC of Eastern Washington, said he wants volunteers who have a passion. He pointed to the local MRC mental health professionals who focus on suicide prevention awareness − and who volunteer to work with first responders to educate about signs of suicidal behavior.
The national Medical Reserve Corps was instituted after Sept. 11, 2001, and the following anthrax scares, Scarborough said, noting the need for a reserve of medical volunteers already vetted and credentialed. Now there are units across the country and are often supported by local health districts such as the Panhandle Health District and the Spokane Regional Health District.
Local MRC volunteers traveled to help with hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. They help regional hospitals with triage training − often playing the victims of explosions or other dramatic disasters. Byrnes said MRC registered nurses put in more than 700 hours helping on the Colville Indian Reservation during this summer’s wildfires. Within an hour of the call for help, seven nurses committed to help − three arrived that evening and four more the next morning, Byrnes said. A couple of nurses from the North Idaho MRC assisted at the shelter during the Cape Horn fire in Bayview.
The units also are preparing for June’s Cascadia Rising joint exercise, which imagines a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Emergency response agencies from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia will work with active-duty military and FEMA during the weeklong exercise that will test the ability of government, private, tribal and military agencies to coordinate disaster response.
“We are only five hours away,” Scarborough said if a megaquake were to hit Western Washington. “People will be coming here. We will provide whatever medical support they need.”
Lorna Schumann, 71, is a retired Washington State University nurse practitioner instructor and nearly a full-time volunteer including with the MRC of North Idaho,which covers the five northern counties in the Idaho Panhandle.
Recently she spent the weekend at the Day of Hope at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds, where more than 5,000 people received groceries, clothing, medical care and entertainment from the international faith-based organization Convey of Hope.
Schumann helped a young boy who had jammed his fingers during a tether ball game. He wasn’t the only patient Schumann sent for X-rays. One patient went to the hospital with respiratory problems likely stemming from wildfire smoke. She saw lots of people with illness stemming from diabetes, obesity, neck and back pain and dental problems.
“It’s a great group to work with,” Schumann said about the Medical Reserve Corps. “They are so organized and on top of stuff.”
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