coronavirus

Volunteers Wanted: Mass. Medical Reserve Corps Gears Up As Pandemic Grows

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Mary McCormick-Gendzel dedicated her career to helping others as a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital.

As a retiree, McCormick-Gendzel is now among those most at risk for serious health problems if she contracts the novel coronavirus spreading in the community.

But with years of experience in health care, McCormick-Gendzel felt compelled to help in a time of crisis. So the 71-year-old put her medical training to use this week, helping staff a new hotline established by the city of Lynn.

She and other volunteers from the Massachusetts Medical Reserve Corps traveled to city hall Wednesday to help Lynn's emergency management director answer questions from residents about the growing pandemic.

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McCormick-Gendzel, who lives in nearby Marblehead, said she's hearing similar concerns in her community and was glad to find a way to help.

"I'm using my brain to take care of myself and my heart to take care of others," she said.

Across the state, volunteers like McCormick-Gendzel are gearing up to assist local leaders as part of the Medical Reserve Corps — a group established after 9/11 to help register and train volunteers ahead of an emergency.

The group has chapters across the country, and has enlisted some 14,000 volunteers in Massachusetts, comprised of both people with medical training and average citizens willing to lend a hand.

There are close to 40 Medical Reserve Corps units in Massachusetts, which can be activated by the state Department of Public Health or by individual communities. In recent years, members rendered aid during the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, helped screen and vaccinate patients during the swine flu pandemic and staffed warming centers during numerous winter storms.

Members have now been called into action for the novel coronavirus pandemic, performing functions that range from delivering food to the elderly in Medford to fielding calls in Lynn and screening patients who arrive to the emergency room at Beverly Hospital.

Local leaders say that help is invaluable for small communities in Massachusetts, many of which don't have full-time public health staff.

"It's been a bit overwhelming as this starts to ramp up," Lynn Mayor Tom McGee said as the city prepared to open its hotline Wednesday.

Lynn declared a public health emergency Tuesday, and closed its city hall the public to help slow the spread of the virus. All beauty parlors, salons, barber shops, spas and tattoo establishments are also closed.

With the city ramping up its efforts to slow the spread of the virus, McGee said the Medical Reserve Corps is an important and reliable asset.

"They came right down within a day," he said.

Liisa Jackson, who coordinates several Medical Reserve Corps units throughout the state, said the organization is still looking for help as it anticipates more calls for service in the weeks ahead. Those who are interested can register online at maresponds.org.

"We need all hands on deck," Jackson said. "Without the volunteers, we could not do this."

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