A Brief History of the Medical Reserve Corps
Creation of the MRC
After the life-altering events of 9/11, the volunteer physicians recognized the need for an organized group of medical volunteers who would be trained and prepared to provide supplemental medical and public health support in response to emergency operations in New York City. The group submitted a proposal to the city, requesting that a cadre of trained medical volunteers be established; the proposal was later expanded to suggest a nationwide group of volunteers be developed—a concept that eventually reached President George W. Bush and Congress.
A second impetus to the MRC’s creation was the response to the anthrax letters in October and November 2001, which was limited mostly to Congressional staff and postal workers. The administration realized that, should large-scale mass dispensing/ mass vaccination be required, the United States would need a group of organized volunteers ready to respond.
During President Bush’s delivery of the 2002 State of the Union Address, he asked all Americans to volunteer in support of their country. Shortly after this speech, the MRC was formed as a partnership with Citizen Corps, a national network dedicated to ensuring hometown security. NACCHO supports the MRC through a cooperative agreement with the Division of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps (DCVMRC), headquartered within the Of ce of the Surgeon General.
A Look at Today’s MRC
The events of 9/11 motivated public health, medical, and non- medical professionals throughout the country to volunteer in their local communities. The DCVMRC establishes, implements, and sustains MRC units—with a ready force of public health, medical, and non-medical volunteers who are ready, willing, and able to support a variety of preparedness, emergency, and public health activities and initiatives.
As of August 2011, the MRC program covered more than 90 percent of the U.S. population through a force that exceeds 200,000 volunteers in more than 950 geographically based units nationwide. These volunteers are actively engaged within their local communities and are committed to strengthening public health, emergency response, and community resiliency throughout the United States.
The DCVMRC Director, Captain Rob Tosatto, leads the MRC. In 2001, Tosatto was deployed on six anthrax mission assignments as part of the HHS/Public Health Service (PHS) response. As a pharmacist, he dispensed medications to Congressional staff and postal workers; as a leader, he created some of the first points of dispensing and led the PHS teams that provided staffing. Tosatto says that he and other responders, “quickly recognized that we could not do this alone in a bigger response. We would need volunteers to assist and augment our efforts. Or, more likely, we would assist and augment their efforts.”
MRC volunteers contribute a variety of public health-related activities to their communities, such as providing flu vaccinations, promoting obesity prevention, and assisting with emergency evacuations. They also responded to recent disasters and emergencies such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Minnesota Bridge Collapse, the H1N1 pandemic, and Midwest floods and tornadoes.
MRC units now spend a significant amount of time planning and preparing for both man-made and natural disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, anthrax attacks, plane crashes, pandemics, and dirty bombs. MRC units engage in large-scale exercises with community partners, such as local American Red Cross chapters and local fire, emergency medical services, and law enforcement personnel, to ensure efficient and effective collaboration and operations during a real-life scenario.
- ABC News & Health. (Sept. 28, 2001). Health Doctors’ Journals: Horror and Frustration (Page 2). Retrieved Aug. 25, 2011, from http://abcnews.go.com/health/ story?id=117218&page=1.
- Division of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps. (Aug. 1, 2011). Division of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps. Retrieved Aug. 25, 2011, from http://www. medicalreservecorps.gov/leader dr/leader?path=Lead.
*reprinted from the August 2011 NAACHO Fact Sheet