BONNERS FERRY — While many people are familiar with the American Red Cross and its contributions during and after manmade and natural disasters, not as many may be familiar with another organization, established after the life altering events that occurred on 9/11.
The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is an organization that is a community based, organized, trained group of volunteer members, both medically trained and non-medically trained, that are in place to supplement existing community medical and emergency response systems.
The Panhandle Health District was awarded a grant and established the Medical Reserve Corps locally in July 2003. The branch in Boundary County has been present, but fairly inactive during the last few years. New Boundary County MRC Co-Coordinator, Sandy Steinhagen hopes to change that, with the help of her other new Co-Coordinator JoAnna Richter.
Steinhagen, who was already a Hall Mountain Volunteer Firefighter and EMT, and also a Wilderness First Responder, had been a member of the MRC since 2015, when the new Panhandle Health District Medical Reserve Corps Unit Coordinator Nanette Swendig came to Boundary County.
“She came up and had a meet and greet and there were about five or six of us in the room, and she begged for a volunteer to take over the coordinator job because she didn’t have anybody up here,” explained Steinhagen. “I sat there and listened to the crickets chirp and looked around the room.”
When she realized that no one else was going to volunteer, she laughed and said, “Shoot. OK, I guess I’ll do it.”
Richter then stepped up and they became co-coordinators. Steinhagen is enthusiastic about her new roles, hoping to recruit new members. She has already gotten four new members, bringing the total to about 30 people.
Steinhagen explained that the level of time commitment is minimal. Members do not have to attend monthly meetings, and the orientation may be done online. For those who wish to further their skills, most of the training is available online or may be completed at the Panhandle Health District when they offer classes.
“You don’t have to have any medical skills. We have a couple registered nurses, we have a few EMTs, but the majority of our membership are lay-people,” said Steinhagen. “It is up to you to choose how big of an area that you are willing to respond to. Are you willing to respond only to local, to state, or national?”
Members are only requested to respond in the event of an emergency, and are never required to be there. If the volunteer chooses to respond nationally, they may be asked to go and assist during natural disasters, such as hurricanes, but they only respond if they would like and are able.
“If there were to be a mass casualty event anywhere in the area, MRC would be called up, and we would work in conjunction with the Red Cross in setting up shelters, and setting up medical needs,” said Steinhagen.
“Red Cross takes care of primarily your bodily comforts- your tents, your showers and that kind of stuff. We are more on the medical side,” she explained. “We make sure we get all the medical professionals in the correct tents and then we make sure we can get the people to them. We set up triage areas and we set up, basically, tent hospitals.”
One of the primary focuses of the MRC is to make sure that any medical professionals, and any people that are trained, are credentialed and have IDs. This solves the problems that have occurred at other large disasters in the past, where, for example, licensed surgeons showed up to volunteer, and were put to work driving a shuttle bus because they couldn’t get their credentials verified fast enough.
“I can show up at any emergency across the country with my MRC ID and a driver’s license and the system shows what I am capable of doing,” explained Steinhagen. “Prior to that, they had to get a hold of state licensing boards, state DMVs, and try to coordinate the two. There wasn’t just a database that could talk to each other and do that.”
While medical professional volunteers are essential, volunteers of all skill levels and backgrounds, that are just willing to step up in the case of a disaster, are welcomed.
“Think about a mass casualty event and all the shell shocked people wandering around that are in need of guidance,” Steinhagen said. “We need everything from security, to logistics, to people willing to set up tables, and cots, and tents.”
The MRC does more than just show up when emergencies strike. They offer educational booths, speakers, and more, to help the public prepare for unforeseen disasters, so they are able to help themselves and their family.
They have games that they play with children, such as one that involves the child choosing what they will take in case of an evacuation. If the parent says “ready-set-go”, what would they take? If a child answers “the TV”, the MRC volunteer will explain that the TV does not fit in their suitcase, and encourage them to come up with another answer.
The MRC also administers immunizations, provides health education, and offers medical support. All MRC volunteers may also assist in ongoing public health efforts, such as helping out at health fairs, during non-emergencies. The Boundary County MRC will have a booth at the Boundary Community Hospital Health Fair on May 12, from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m.
“We need more members,” said Steinhagen. “If anyone has anything in the community that they would like us to come set up at, or come speak at, and give them more information, we are happy to do that. If there were to be a pandemic, or something like that, this is something that we want to be available, to take care of our community with.”
For more information: volunteeridaho.com
Boundary County Medical Reserve Corp Co-Coordinator Sandy Steinhagen: 509-710-0544 or firstname.lastname@example.org