Specialized team of volunteers at University of Minnesota helping with COVID-19 response

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A specialized team of volunteers at the University of Minnesota is helping with the COVID-19 response. The Medical Reserve Corps has been active since early March.

Bionca Davis, a research staff member at the School of Public Health, was triaging patients at the Boynton Health Clinic as part of the early effort.

“We would stop them and ask them if they had some of the targeted symptoms for COVID, if they said no we would let them pass,” she said. “If they said yes, then we would take them to a corner and ask specific questions about the symptoms, about the symptom onset, about contact and travel. We would put a mask on them and send them with a form to the appropriate station.”

“It was very nerve-wracking but it was very exciting,” said Davis.

Davis joined the team in October 2018, when she was a nursing student.

“It’s been very rewarding to be able to give more of myself,” she said.

There are 1,500 members of the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) team, comprised of faculty, staff and students.

“Every day when I open my emails, I receive dozens of emails from our Medical Reserve Corps members wanting to assist,” said Kathy Berlin, the program director.

She said they’ve added 500 members since March.

They’ve also shifted away from face-to-face encounters, as traffic on campus has dropped and Boynton Health has switched to more virtual services.

“Currently, the U of M MRC is being deployed in virtual settings,” said Berlin. “We have students who are primarily working from home from their own computers, assisting M Health Fairview and State Health Department.”

She said faculty from the medical school, pharmacy school and School of Public Health are serving as leaders on those teams, supervising the students.

Thirty-two students have now volunteered more than 320 hours, doing telehealth support, medication reconciliation, triage and command center support.

“This is a marathon and not a sprint and we anticipate that we will be actively deploying in the days, weeks and likely in the months ahead,” said Berlin. “We stand ready, our MRC members stand ready, to assist hospitals, long term care facilities and local public health departments.”

The Medical Reserve Corps team at the University of Minnesota is part of a national program that started after the events of 9/11.

“Health professionals were amongst the first to arrive, thousands at a time, and there wasn’t a process in place to identify their credentials and utilize them in the correct way,” said Berlin. “They were all sent home.”

Through the Medical Reserve Corps program, there are now coordinated volunteer teams across the country.

“To assist in the event of a public health crisis or large scale disaster,” said Berlin.

She said the U of M team launched in 2004 and has now been deployed more than 30 times. They’ve responded to major local events, including the Interstate 35W bridge collapse and Drake Hotel fire, and national disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

“The communities are experiencing trauma and vulnerability and we’re showing up and it’s an honor to be able to participate and assist them in that moment,” said Berlin.

To get involved with the U of M team, click here. To find other programs in Minnesota, click here.

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