Martha’s Vineyard Medical Reserve Corps seeks new volunteers

MRC volunteers on State Beach in Oak Bluffs offered beachgoers tips about protecting their skin from harmful sun exposure. — Photo courtesy of Jean Roma

The Martha’s Vineyard Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) would like to expand its ranks with some new volunteers. The Island’s unit is one of 975 nationwide that total more than 206,000 medical and non-medical volunteers.

The local MRC group, established in 2006, currently has about 72 members. Health care professionals make up about half the group, which includes representatives from the Island towns’ boards of health. Jean Roma oversees the Martha’s Vineyard unit as director of the Cape Cod Medical Reserve Corps. Sylvia Yeomans of Chilmark is the on-Island MRC administrator and works out of an office at the Dukes County government building.

“Our mission is very simple,” Ms. Roma said in a recent phone conversation with The Times. “It is to engage volunteers, and pre-credential and pre-train them to strengthen public health and emergency response, and build community resiliency.”

The Office of the Surgeon General sponsors and oversees the MRC program.

What the MRC does

MRC volunteers are intended to supplement existing local emergency and public health resources. Over the past several years one of the most prominent activities the Martha’s Vineyard unit sponsors has been the all-Island seasonal flu shot clinic for adults and high school students.

The annual event provides an opportunity for all Vineyarders to get vaccinated and also serves as an emergency dispensing drill for the MRC to practice coordinating the Island’s volunteer groups. The clinic is sponsored by the towns’ boards of health, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Vineyard Nursing Association, and the Wampanoag Tribal Health Services. The clinic also receives support from the Island Councils on Aging, Island police departments, emergency medical services and emergency managers, the Rotary Club of Martha’s Vineyard, the regional high school, and Dukes County government.

More recently, a few weeks ago a big red and white tent called attention to the presence of MRC volunteers on State Beach in Oak Bluffs. They offered beachgoers tips about protecting their skin from harmful sun exposure. Information included how to choose the right sunscreen, advice on buying sunglasses and protective clothing, and how to recognize signs of possible skin cancer.

This year the Cape Cod MRC also provided training for saving victims of choking in restaurants.”Under Massachusetts law any restaurant that seats 25 or more has to have someone on each shift trained in choke saving,” Ms. Roma said. “We offered 22 choke-saving trainings between the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard free for restaurant workers.”

MRC volunteers also taught hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a method to keep victims of heart attacks alive until help arrives to provide full-scale CPR.

“The program takes about 50 minutes,” Ms. Roma said. “We gave a one-year certification to about 400 restaurant workers who took the class,” Ms. Roma said. “We had about 50 who took it in Oak Bluffs, as suggested by the health agents because of the density of restaurants in that town.”

State-wide initiative

Recently Massachusetts launched an initiative, called MA Responds, to pre-register, manage and mobilize existing medical and non-medical volunteers to help in responding to all types of disasters. Massachusetts is looking for anyone willing to volunteer their skills in a health emergency, according to a factsheet from MA Responds.

That includes health care professionals such as doctors, nurses and nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, dentists and veterinarians, public health care professionals, and behavioral health and social service professionals. They may be actively licensed or retired.

Because many health professionals will already be committed to a role during an emergency, people with non-medical skills are encouraged to join the MRC to assist them. Support staff from other professions are needed to serve as greeters, canteen and clerical workers, and to do data entry and traffic control, for example.

Volunteers receive training free of charge and learn how to prepare themselves and their families during an emergency. Ms. Roma said the local MRC would also like to have a broader base of volunteers.

When she first broached the state initiative to register new Martha’s Vineyard volunteers through the state website, however, she said some of the current volunteers questioned the necessity for the formal process because the Island community is so tight-knit.”They said to me, we don’t need to do this; when there’s an emergency on the Island, we all show up,” Ms. Roma said. “But we don’t always know what someone’s skill levels are. Plus, we have to be careful that people are pre-credentialed, since we have volunteers that work with families in shelters.”

Backgrounds of volunteers who register through MA Responds are checked through a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) and Sex Offenders Registry Information (SORI) checks, Ms. Roma said.Volunteers can participate as much or as little as they choose. “We notify everybody by email; we don’t call them,” Ms. Roma said. “It’s always family first, job second, and then if you can help, great. There is no pressure on anybody.”

Training is available online. Volunteers are asked to attend an orientation and get CPR certified, which is offered free of charge.

Ms. Roma suggests that interested volunteers register online at and indicate that they want to serve in the Martha’s Vineyard unit. For more questions, visit the website or call Ms. Roma at 508-375-6641.