No one expected the events of September 11, 2001 to occur on that bright, sunny morning, or the health care emergencies they would spawn.
That's why the federal government began funding medical reserve corps in every state, to provide quick, efficient and effective response to natural and man-made disasters. And even though a decade has passed, these organizations still need volunteers.
Medical reserve corps volunteers might work in mass-dispensing or vaccination clinics, help with epidemiologic investigations, supplement staff at a local hospital or temporary off-site care facility, provide information via a phone bank or hotline, or assist in activating other volunteers.
Each Minnesota county has its own medical reserve corps. Members may be mobilized to serve anywhere in the state or even out of state in a national emergency, according to Cindy Johnson, Hennepin County's Medical Reserve Corps program coordinator.
Members of the Hennepin corps have been mobilized to administer polio vaccinations, tuberculosis tests and immunizations, and to move nursing home patients in the Moorhead area during floods, according to Johnson.
Who can volunteer?
Volunteers needn't work in health care or be currently licensed if they have worked in the field. The corps accepts health care students, behavioral health professionals such as social workers and health care retirees as well as members of the general public. For everyone licensed to give injections, the corps needs seven other volunteers to act as ushers, greeters and registration staff, Johnson said.
That said, the highest need is for nurses. Diane DiCarlo is a licensed practical nurse from St. Michael who signed up for the Hennepin County Medical Reserve Corps several years ago. "I have my nursing license and am not really working as a nurse," DiCarlo said. "I thought it would be a good way to continue to use my nursing skills but also to give back to the community."
DiCarlo took part in a mass-dispensing exercise held at Eden Prairie Mall, in which volunteers simulated dispensing medications to families who drove through the mall parking lot.
Training necessary, need remains high
Volunteers receive in-person and online training, and nurses receive continuing education credits for that training, Johnson said. The Hennepin corps has 353 volunteers, but many health professionals may be needed at their work sites in the case of an emergency, so the corps needs more.
"We're always in need of people," Johnson said. "Our funding has dwindled down to very small amounts, so recruitment is tough."
For information on volunteering, visit mnresponds.org