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Medical Reserve Corps Units Respond to Severe Weather in California

Feb 15, 2023 | Beth Hess

From late December 2022 into January of this year, California residents felt the impact of atmospheric rivers and “bomb cyclones” that brought heavy rains over multiple days. This resulted in mudslides, flooding, and road closures. In some areas, strong winds also brought trees down on cars, houses, and across roadways.

Volunteers from multiple Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units in both Northern and Southern California were quick to respond.

Sacramento MRC

In Sacramento County, MRC Unit Leader Lynn Pesely staffed the Emergency Operations Center in the position of volunteer and donations management.
The Sacramento MRC received the call for assistance at shelters for unhoused populations on

Sacramento MRC volunteer

January 8 and by January 9 volunteers were working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week staffing shelters. The 28 members who served 180 hours in response to the winter storms included six physicians, one PA, nine RNs, one DDS, one LVN, four EMTs, three other medical, and three non-medical volunteers.

MRC volunteers provided medical support, doing rounds and offering medical care at four different shelters. The unit provided volunteers with medical equipment and supplies and volunteers treated a wide variety of medical issues.

One volunteer, EMT Sophia Lin volunteered multiple shifts at the shelters and commented that “it is always very rewarding doing shifts with the Sacramento MRC! Looking forward to more opportunities to come!”

Additionally, unit volunteers helped to manage donations of new goods received. Volunteers opened packages, organized materials, loaded supplies, and distributed them in shelters.

The unit worked with the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Human Assistance, American Red Cross, and Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) in its response activities.

Contra Costa County MRC

volunteer packs bags

In Contra Costa County, four of the MRC unit’s 87 active volunteers supported donation management for the Contra Costa County Health, Housing, and Homeless (H3) Services’ Core Team, who did community outreach to those impacted by the storms.

From January 11 to 19, two shifts of volunteers worked daily (8:00 am-12:30 pm; 1:00-5:00 pm) packing items for the Core Team including 600 sleeping bags, 250 food bags, and other supplies like coats and tarps.

“It worked out really well,” said MRC Coordinator Theresa Dade-Boone. “The Core Team really appreciated the support which allowed them to go out, help in the community, and come back to the office to quickly replenish needed supplies. MRC volunteers saw the need and their support helped people stay dry.”

The unit utilized SignUpGenius to register volunteers and Just-in-Time-Training (JITT) was attached to the sign-up process.

Marin MRC

In response to continuous rain coupled with a cold snap, the Marin MRC in Northern California supported a severe weather emergency shelter for those experiencing homelessness. At this overnight pop-up shelter at the public health office, MRC doctors and nurses conducted medical intake to screen for COVID-19 and were on standby to provide first aid. Twelve volunteers supported the mission, working alongside staff from Episcopal Community Services and the county public health department.

“Marin MRC volunteers are a resource that the public health department knows they can count on during emergencies,” said MRC Coordinator Anne Carta.

In preparation for the mission, the unit provided volunteers JITT and job action sheets developed by the public health nurses. The unit has previously been involved in shelter clinical operations during wildfires and has helped to staff daytime warming center during extreme rain and cold conditions.

Ventura MRC

Ventura MRC

In Southern California, 14 volunteers from the Ventura MRC covered shifts from 7:00 am to 1:00 am at a winter warming shelter at the fairgrounds. These medical personnel who were RNs or higher worked alongside the Ventura Sheriff’s Department, Human Services, and the Red Cross to provide warm food, showers, a bed, and access to a mobile clinic for about 180 residents. MRC volunteers helped triage to prioritize medical needs.

“Overall, it was a highly gratifying event for them,” said MRC Coordinator Traci Holt. “The volunteers were able to connect with a community they haven’t interacted with previously. It was a great learning experience. They were humbled and excited to help.”

Long Beach MRC

Long Beach MRC volunteers

The Long Beach MRC, which has supported flooding response in the past, responded to flooding on its peninsula. Four volunteers helped to fill and distribute sand bags.

Santa Barbara MRC

Several Santa Barbara MRC volunteers assisted with staffing the Joint Information Center by answering phone calls from community members seeking information about local evacuation orders.

Santa Cruz MRC

In Santa Cruz County, several MRC volunteers worked shifts around the clock staffing shelters providing medical and behavioral health support.

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