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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Preparing for ‘the worst’ as pandemic rages, officials call for volunteers to join Medical Reserve Corps

During a news conference at the Public Safety Building on Tuesday, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich discusses using the Medical Reserve Corps of Eastern Washington as a preparatory step by Spokane County Emergency Management with local health care and public health partners to strengthen the list of available volunteers to meet any future needs of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Officials are asking anyone with medical experience, transportation or logistical experience to aid in the county’s fight against COVID-19 by joining the Medical Reserve Corps of Eastern Washington.

The call for help, announced Tuesday, is in preparation for a “surge that could, in the worst case scenario, overwhelm the community,” said Dr. Daniel Getz, chief medical officer at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Getz said staff at Providence are tired after nine months responding to the pandemic.

“We’re seeing a critical situation in California, we’ve seen shortages in New York, we’re seeing that now in our Providence hospitals in Southern California,” Getz said at Tuesday’s in-person news conference held by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

People interested in joining can apply through the Spokane Regional Health District’s website.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he, Getz, the Spokane Regional Health District and Dr. Dave Chen, chief medical officer at MultiCare Deaconess Hospital, all began discussing the call to action last month, expecting a post-holiday surge.

Because applications to volunteer in the corps can take one to three weeks to be processed, Knezovich said people should move to join right away, as he expects the COVID cases ticking up after holiday gatherings could begin in five days.

The Medical Reserve Corps of Eastern Washington, part of a national corps, has existed since 2003, said interim Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez. With about 50 volunteers, they’ve helped with suicide prevention, provided aid during Bloomsday and other large events, and have also helped with vaccine efforts, he said.

Now, the corps’ focus will not be on vaccination rollout, but helping take tasks off health care workers’ hands, Getz said. Volunteers will work mainly with patients who are not in critical condition, doing work like checking vital signs.

They will not be directly working with COVID patients, but will help pick up work in local hospitals to allow staff to focus on COVID, he said.

While nurses, doctors and trained practitioners are important, Velázquez said the corps could also use educators to teach hospitalized children. Chaplains or people with experience in transportation, administration and security can also volunteer, according to the Spokane Regional Health District website.

“I think if you have something to offer, I encourage you to volunteer,” Getz said. “The more hands on deck, the better.”

Getz said he sees the likelihood of Spokane’s hospitals becoming as overwhelmed as Los Angeles hospitals as “low.”

There are 128 patients with COVID-19 in Spokane hospitals, including 71 county residents. This level of strain on local hospitals has remained fairly consistent since the end of November.

The group emphasized they were prepared for the worst, but not expecting it.

“Our job is to be prepared as opposed to have to react,” Velázquez said.

Though Getz said Providence is not in a dire situation now, Knezovich said they are experiencing strain.

“We’ve all seen the newscast from California; our goal is to avoid that scenario,” Knezovich said. “We want to make sure we have the assets and personnel in place.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a link to apply to join the Medical Reserve Corps.