Medical Reserve Corps
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The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is a network in the U.S. of community-based units initiated and established by local organizations to meet the public health needs of their communities. It is sponsored by the Office of the Surgeon General of the United States. The MRC consists of medical and non-medical volunteers who contribute to local health initiatives, such as activities meeting the Surgeon General’s  priorities for public health, and supplement existing response capabilities in time of emergency. The MRC provides the structure necessary to pre-identify, credential, train, and activate medical and public health volunteers.
The Division of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps (DCVMRC) is the national "clearinghouse for information and guidance to help communities establish, implement, and sustain MRC units nationwide."
As of June 3, 2013, there are 936 local MRC units and more than 200,000 volunteers. MRC units are present in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., Guam, Palau, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Why the MRC was established
The events of September 11, 2001, underscored a need for a mechanism to better utilize volunteer medical and public health professionals. Medical providers who wanted to help alleviate the strain on local medical systems where the terror incidents occurred arrived on their own and at personal risk. Despite their intentions, their presence became problematic for emergency managers due to difficulties that arose surrounding the use of spontaneous, unaffiliated volunteers.
Some of these issues included volunteer credentialing, liability, and management.
- Credentialing—Credentialing is a process by which volunteers’ degrees, certificates, licenses, and training are verified. September 11, 2001 demonstrated that it was difficult or impossible to verify volunteers’ licenses and professional qualifications when the emergency management system was overloaded or shut down.
- Liability—Questions that arose surrounding liability included:
- Who would provide legal protection for volunteers, many of whom had come from other areas of the country?
- What should occur if the volunteers were injured?
- How would they be treated or compensated?
- Who would manage and supervise the volunteers?
- Management—Ultimately, most volunteers were turned away because emergency and local medical managers with limited resources, focused on emergency response, and accounting for their own personnel were unequipped to handle spontaneous volunteers.
Subsequent emergency situations, such as the anthrax mailings in October 2001 further highlighted the need for an organized volunteer response system. Federal, state, and local response assets were able to provide prophylactic doses of antibiotics to thousands of individuals who may have been exposed to anthrax spores. Leaders quickly realized, however, that they would have been overwhelmed if the number of individuals at risk was much larger. Point of distribution sites would need more workers, including many more health professionals.
Lessons-learned sessions and after-action reports from the response to September 11, 2001 and the anthrax mailings discussed the need for a more organized approach to catastrophic disasters. They also identified many of the issues that needed to be addressed, including volunteer pre-identification, registration, credentialing, training, liability, and activation.
The MRC was founded after President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address, in which he asked all Americans to volunteer in support of their country. The MRC is a partner program of Citizen Corps, a national network of volunteers dedicated to ensuring hometown security. Citizen Corps, along with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Peace Corps, are part of the President’s USA Freedom Corps, which promotes volunteerism and service nationwide.
The MRC also has a cooperative agreement with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). This agreement enables NACCHO to assist the Office of the Surgeon General's Office of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps in enhancing MRC units' ability to meet local, state, and national needs through collaboration, coordination, and capacity-building activities. These activities include:
Coordinating the distribution of grant funding
Developing a national marketing strategy
Publishing a quarterly national newsletter
Assisting in the planning of regional and national meetings
Developing materials, resources, and tools to strengthen the knowledge and skills of MRC members
In addition, NACCHO's relationship with almost 3,000 local health departments further serves as an avenue to promote the MRC program at the local level.
Local and national organization
Locally, each MRC unit is led by an MRC Unit Director and/or Coordinator, who matches community needs with volunteer capabilities. Local MRC leaders are also responsible for building partnerships, ensuring the sustainability of the local unit, and managing resources. Partnerships typically include local public health and emergency response agencies, community businesses, and neighboring MRC's. Local MRC units are typically housed under Health Departments or other local governmental organizations.
Nationally, the MRC is guided by the Office of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps (also known as the MRC Program Office), which is housed in the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General. The MRC Program Office serves as a clearinghouse for information and best practices to help communities establish, implement, and maintain MRC units nationwide. It sponsors an annual leadership conference, hosts a Web site, and coordinates with local, state, regional, and national organizations and agencies to help communities' preparedness. There are also Regional Coordinators (RCs) in all ten of the Department of Health and Human Services regions.
Many states have appointed State MRC Coordinators to help plan, organize and integrate MRC activities within the State. The MRC Program Office staff and the RCs collaborate with the State Coordinators to better integrate with local and state planning and response activities. All local MRC units are encouraged to collaborate with State Coordinators.
Types of volunteers
Possible front-line medical and public health volunteers include:
- physicians (D.O.) or (M.D.) and ( D.C.) (e.g., including surgeons, medical specialists)
- physician assistants
- nurses (e.g., nurse practitioners, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants)
- dental assistants
- emergency medical technicians
- public health workers
- infectious disease specialists
- mental health practitioners (e.g., psychologists, substance abuse counselors, social workers)
- health educators/communicators
- other medical and public health professionals
Possible administrative and other support volunteers include:
- administrators and business managers
- administrative assistants and office support staff
- training directors
- volunteer coordinators
- fundraising professionals
- supply and logistics managers & workers
- amateur radio operators
- other support personnel
Activities include, but are not limited to:
- supporting local public health, while advancing the priorities of the U.S. Surgeon General, which are to promote disease prevention, improve health literacy, eliminate health disparities, and enhance public health preparedness
- assisting local hospitals and health departments with surge personnel needs
- participating in mass prophylaxis and vaccination exercises and community disaster drills
- training with local emergency response partners
- providing First Aid services for fundraising and other events
Federal- and national-level reports and documents
- Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned (February 2006). p 105. Adobe PDF (2.86 MB)
- Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations Hospital – 2007 Medical Staff Standards.
Local MRC websites
State of California
- Riverside County MRC
- Medical Reserve Corps of Los Angeles
- Oakland Medical Reserve Corps
- Orange County Medical Reserve Corps
State of Florida
- Broward County Medical Reserve Corps
- Medical Reserve Corps of Sarasota County
- Manatee County Medical Reserve Corps
State of Iowa
State of Kansas
State of Maine
State of Maryland
State of Massachusetts
State of Michigan
State of Minnesota
State of Missouri
State of New Jersey
State of New Mexico
State of New York
- Monroe County Medical Reserve Corps
- CNY Regional Medical Reserve Corps
- Suffolk County Medical Reserve Corps
- Specialized Medical Assistance Response Team
State of North Carolina
State of Ohio
State of Oklahoma
State of Pennsylvania
State of Tennessee
State of Virginia
- Fairfax County Medical Reserve Corps
- University of Virginia Medical Reserve Corps
- Arlington County Medical Reserve Corps
- Loudoun Medical Reserve Corps
- Chesapeake Medical Reserve Corps
- Southwest Virginia Medical Reserve Corps
State of Washington
- Public Health Reserve Corps of Seattle & King County
- Whatcom County Medical Reserve Corps
- Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps