Medical Reserve Corps Volunteers Continue to be an Asset for Chesterfield Health District

April 29, 2024
Media Contact: Kristy Fowler, PR Specialist,

Medical Reserve Corps Volunteers Continue to be an Asset for Chesterfield Health District

Chesterfield, Va. When disasters strike, volunteers put themselves last and respond to help wherever they’re needed.

At the Virginia Department of Health, Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is a group of medical and non-medical community members who volunteer their skills, expertise and time to support ongoing public health initiatives and health emergencies.

The Chesterfield Health District (CHD) currently has about 50 active volunteers in Chesterfield County, Powhatan County, and the City of Colonial Heights. Although, during the pandemic volunteer numbers reached 800.

Making connections

Cathy Harrison, of Moseley, has been an MRC volunteer since 2019. As a Navy veteran, Harrison feels strongly about public service. She’s practiced anesthesia for the past 47 years.

“I love the people,” she said. “It’s all about making connections and building on them.”

CHD MRC coordinator Sarah Gagnon feels the same way as a self-described people person.

“I get excited when I connect people with their passions,” Gagnon said. “One of our volunteers has a son who struggles with addiction and wants to be active in opioid education. So, I make that happen.”

During the pandemic, Harrison called the CHD and said, “My offices are shut down. I’m here to do whatever you need.”

She served as a contact tracer, answered the provider phone line, performed COVID-19 tests and vaccinated several thousand people.

Volunteer Kathleen Kramer, of Midlothian, spent 35 years in nursing, mostly in labor and delivery. When she retired, the Virginia Department of Health Professions sent her a survey and one of the questions asked if she would be willing to volunteer in a health emergency. She checked the box and when COVID-19 vaccines became available in 2021, she received an email asking her for help getting shots in arms.

“MRC volunteers really came through during the pandemic when others were scared,” Gagnon said. “They helped the county get through this.”

Volunteers are not just needed in a public health emergency

Now that the pandemic is over, Kramer assists by answering phones, helping patients with blood pressures, and walking them to their exam rooms. She also helps vaccinate students with state-required immunizations in schools.

“I love feeling helpful, that I am filling a need,” Kramer said.

When the CHD is not dealing with a pandemic, jobs include clerical duties, project management and community education. Medical volunteers can help in the clinic and if they complete courses, they can serve in supervisory roles in the event of an emergency.

Many people would like to volunteer but are uncertain if they have what it takes.

“We receive adequate training and lots of support,” Kramer said. “It is very rewarding to fill a need in the community.”

Paying it forward

Emma Taylor, of Chesterfield, has volunteered in the MRC since 2020. Originally from Liberia, she and her family immigrated to Virginia more than two decades ago. She got her daughter, Alexzane Taylor, to join the MRC in 2022.

“Volunteering is a big thing for my family,” Emma Taylor said. “We do international missions, help with animal shelters and host exchange students.”

“When we moved to Virginia, we didn’t have a lot,” Alexzane Taylor said. “You never know when you might need help, so pay it forward while you have the opportunity.”

Helping those in need

Emma Taylor remembers a lady who came to a vaccination clinic who looked like she was lost. She couldn’t remember which vaccinations she’d had and couldn’t find her records. She broke down in tears.

“It broke my heart to see her like that,” Emma Taylor said. “I told her she didn’t have to worry; we could look it up and find a solution. We were able to get her the vaccines she needed, and she was relieved.”

Alexzane Taylor recalled helping watch over the children who were at a vaccination clinic while their parents were on the phone gathering information they needed.

“I was able to calm the kids down and get them excited about being there, despite them not being happy about getting shots,” Alexzane Taylor said. “I loved making sure they were ok; it was fun connecting them with them.”

Requirements and benefits

To volunteer in the MRC, fill out an application, attend orientation and complete a background check at no cost to you.

“A lot of our medical volunteers join so they can keep up with continuing education to maintain their certifications,” Gagnon said.

Classes include CPR training, Stop the Bleed, mental health and Revive training for opioid overdoses.

“There’s no minimum requirement for hours,” Gagnon said. “You can volunteer as much or as little as your schedule allows.”

CHD Director Alexander Samuel, MD, MPH, understands the importance of a strong volunteer workforce.

“Our MRC volunteers are our force multiplier,” Samuel said. “We could not have met the need for testing and vaccinations during the pandemic without our MRC volunteers. Their efforts without question saved lives and reduced hospitalizations then, and they continue to serve our community to help us protect the health and promote the well-being of all people.”