Protecting Health Behind the Scenes During the Papal Visit

This post originally ran on the ASPR Blog. For more information from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response visit http://www.phe.gov/ASPRBlog/Pages/default.aspx. 

By Grace Middleton, Communications Coordinator, Medical Reserve Corps Program (MRC), Office of Emergency Management (OEM), HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response

MRCPAPALVISITWhen the Pope came to Philadelphia earlier this year, I got to be part of the action. But I wasn’t a spectator and I didn’t go to mass. Instead, I got to be a part of the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) response. MRC staff and volunteers from throughout the Pennsylvania and neighboring states came together to make sure that people could get urgent medical care if something happened while people were gathered to see the Pope.

The crowds were huge. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the City of Brotherly Love to welcome the Pope. When you have that many people in one place, there needs to be a plan to help people who need urgent medical care. What if someone has a heart attack? Or goes into labor? What if a bomb goes off? Thankfully, there were no bombs or other serious threats, but MRC volunteers did help handle the needs for urgent care that arose and stood by ready to help in case of an emergency.

So what is the Medical Reserve Corps? The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is a national network of volunteers, organized locally to improve the health and safety of their communities. MRC volunteers can be medical and public health professionals, but they don’t have to be. Many community members join the MRC to provide other forms of support that helps make their communities healthier. When there are major events, like an emergency or the visit of the Pope, MRC volunteers may go to help other communities as well.

Being ready to help other communities starts with a plan and some great partnerships. MRC planners worked for a year to get ready for this event. The planners knew that they would need a lot of volunteers – more than they could get locally. So they reached out to other MRC units throughout the state. A total of 176 MRC volunteers stepped forward to help – at least one volunteer from every MRC unit in Pennsylvania was part of this response.

Even though volunteers came from all over the state and most of them had never met each other before, they came together as a team. Just to get into the city, some people traveled on an eight hour bus ride and met an additional one hour delay when they got into town. They then worked 12 hour shifts and bunked at a local community college. And despite all that hard work, travel and delays, MRC volunteers told me that they were excited. They wanted to serve and they pretty psyched to be part of something bigger.

Even though volunteers were traveling from all over the state, the coordination worked. People had their assignments before they even got to town, so with a few instructions they were ready to get started. They worked together to set up medical tents and get ready to help the people who needed them.

Over the course of the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia, MRC volunteers saw 166 patients. The time that they dedicated helped keep those people healthy and gave their families peace of mind. MRC units also served during Pope’s visit to New York and Washington, DC.

Medical Reserve Corps volunteers come together to make a difference every day. Sometimes, they get people urgently needing medical attention at a major event like the Pope’s visit or they come together to help respond to a disaster. More often, they support everyday health in their communities by staffing vaccination clinics, blood drives, and other health events. But their contributions matter to their communities and there is a very good reason that so many MRC volunteers say that they are proud to serve their communities.

If you would like to find out more about ways that you can serve as part of the Medical Reserve Corps, find a unit in your area and talk to other volunteers about ways that you can help your community. 

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