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COVID-19 Volunteers Made All the Difference - And Will Continue to Do So

District 2 Legislator Nadia Rajsz and Volunteer Lori Orestano James

District 2 Legislator Nadia Rajsz, left, listens to volunteer Lori Orestano James explain the registration process for people receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at a recent clinic at SUNY Sullivan.

Liberty, NY – Sullivan County Public Health Services had always wanted a reserve of volunteers to call upon, but when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, that long-held desire became a pressing need.

“As part of our response to the onslaught of coronavirus, we quickly coalesced a group of volunteers to aid us at our community clinics,” recalled Public Health Director Nancy McGraw. “They were incredibly helpful during the entire extent of the crisis.”

As of June 2021, 354 volunteers with Public Health Services had given 11,653 volunteer hours, mostly at 49 community clinics held from January through June. Some handled paperwork, others directed participants to the correct location, and some took on medical duties, including dispensing vaccines. Thanks to the hard work of Sam Avrett, MPH, who as a Health Services Advisory Board member volunteered to coordinate this effort and get it off the ground during the mass vaccination clinics, the team was able to organize very quickly.

“Over 40 of our volunteers possess a medical degree or license, allowing them to work alongside our nurses and other skilled professionals,” acknowledged McGraw. “We even had a pharmacist and two dentists assisting!”

The success of the effort means it’s not going away. Sullivan County is in the process of applying to create an official Medical Reserve Corps through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

“With COVID-19 cases creeping back up around the nation, it’s prudent we have a cadre of dedicated volunteers ready to help Public Health respond to a potential increase locally,” noted District 2 Legislator Nadia Rajsz, chair of the Sullivan County Legislature’s Health & Family Services Committee. “It’s also good to know that we’ll have hundreds of talented, trained locals for other health crises in the future. They will strengthen our Public Health team, which is the backbone of our response efforts.”

Everyone who is registered on the ServNY website with Sullivan County will be considered part of the Medical Reserve Corps, when it is officially established and approved by the Federal government. For those who would like to be a part of the Corps, go to www.sullivanny.us/Departments/Publichealth/clinicvolunteer for details and signup instructions.

“Registration in ServNY is open to any health care or mental health professional, as well as laypersons who are willing to serve in administrative or support roles during public health emergencies,” explained McGraw. “I encourage anyone who’s over 18 and interested to put themselves on the list. They will be key to helping us increase our health rankings in the years to come.”

Examples of non-medical volunteers include greeters, line monitors, registration, inventory, data entry and logistics. To learn more, public health staff welcomes calls to (845) 292-5910, or emails at volunteerMRC@sullivanny.us.

About the MRC Program

The MRC network comprises more than 200,000 volunteers in roughly 800 community-based units throughout the United States and its territories. MRC units organize and utilize local volunteers who want to donate their time and expertise to prepare for and respond to emergencies and to support ongoing preparedness initiatives. MRC volunteers include medical and public health professionals as well as other community members without healthcare backgrounds who want to improve the health and safety of their communities.

Examples of activities that MRC volunteers participate in and support include the following:

  • ​Emergency preparedness and response trainings and exercises
  • Emergency shelter operations and medical care
  • Disaster medical and behavioral health support
  • Medical facility surge support
  • Mass dispensing efforts (e.g., medication, water, other supplies)
  • Disease testing and surveillance
  • ​Community vaccination clinics
  • Veterinary care
  • Support services to disaster call centers, family assistance centers, and reception/evacuation centers
  • Emergency operations center and communications support
  • Patient movement support
  • Search and rescue operations
  • Disaster clean-up and recovery support
  • First aid and medical support during large public gatherings
  • Community education and outreach
  • Emergency preparedness and response planning, logistical, and administrative support

More information is available at www.phe.gov/mrc.