The Medical Reserve Corps: A National Network of Volunteers Building Local Capacity

By Stacy Stanford, MSPH, Senior Program Analyst; and Frances Bevington, Senior Marketing and Communications Specialist, Public Health Preparedness, NACCHO

On April 21, 2014, NACCHO released the report of findings and data from the 2013 Network Profile of the Medical Reserve Corps, a first of its kind study that provides insights into this national network of over 200,000 volunteers and the positive community contributions of nearly 1,000 MRC units across the country. Earlier this year the results from NACCHO’s 2013 LHD Profile findings indicated that only 27 percent engage MRC volunteers at their health department. This combined with the significant drop in funding for emergency preparedness (LHDs reporting median per capita funding of $1.15 in 2013 compared to $2.07 per capita in 2010) suggests that there is potential for increased collaboration between LHDs and MRC units to help fill gaps in capacity. As federal funding for local public health and emergency preparedness decreases, the reliance on volunteers will increase, making the MRC even more vital to continue providing services that keep a community healthy and safe.

The 2013 Network Profile of the Medical Reserve Corps report underscores what a critical asset an MRC unit can be for an LHD. Figure 1 reveals the most common public health activities MRC units conduct in their local jurisdiction. More than half of units reported participating in seasonal flu clinics and POD activities. These MRC units have the experience and training for community mass prophylaxis and medical countermeasure distribution and dispensing operations in the event of a local emergency.


Figure 1: Public Health Activities

Figure 2 shows that 88 percent of MRC units engaged in emergency preparedness training and exercises last year, the most common activity. This represents nearly 850 communities that are more prepared for local emergencies in part because of the volunteer expertise of their local MRC unit. In addition, more than 60 percent of units also conducted personal preparedness campaigns and communication/texting drills to test for volunteer readiness.

Figure 2: Emergency Preparedness Activities

Figure 2: Emergency Preparedness Activities

Other findings of note include the following:

  • The MRC is able to provide a wide range of medical and non-medical community volunteers; the average number of volunteers per MRC unit is 224.
  • The MRC is a resource for emergency deployment; forty-one percent of MRC units reported participating in an emergency response in the last year.
  • When asked about training, most MRC units (84%) reported having a written training plan for volunteers, which is critical for arming volunteers with confidence and experience pre-event.

NACCHO collected the data for the report to provide a comprehensive picture of the network of MRC units and volunteers around the country. The report includes a collection of descriptive statistics of 837 respondents, an 87 percent response rate that is representative of the nation’s approximately 1,000 MRC units. The MRC program, now in its fourteenth year, is a powerful example of the contributions of volunteers stepping forward to ensure the health and safety of their community. NACCHO supports the MRC through a cooperative agreement with the Office of the Surgeon General.

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