Using the Michigan Volunteer Registry to Prepare for and Respond to Emergencies

Victoria Arnold, BA, MS – MDHHS-BETP Michigan Volunteer Registry - Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator

Jessica Gould, B.Sc - MDHHS-BETP Healthcare Preparedness Specialist

The Michigan Volunteer Registry (MVR) allows individuals to pre-register, undergo a criminal background check and have their medical credentials verified prior to deployment to assist in an incident. This vetting significantly reduces the time necessary to deploy volunteers when they are needed most. Currently, 7,350 individuals are registered in the system to perform a variety of tasks including general support volunteers, physicians, nurses, administrators, social workers, medical examiners, veterinarians, electricians, dentists, security personnel and paramedics. The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) and the Michigan Mortuary Operational Response Team (MI-MORT) use the MVR to support programmatic response operations in dynamic ways that continue to grow the capacity of the state’s volunteer network.

Medical Reserve Corps (MRC)
The Medical Reserve Corps is a national network of volunteers, organized locally through the MVR to improve the health and safety of their communities. MRC volunteers include medical and public health professionals, as well as other community members without healthcare backgrounds. They prepare for and respond to natural disasters, such as wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, and floods, as well as other emergencies affecting public health, such as disease outbreaks.

Recently, Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas and caused several other areas to declare a state of emergency. Winds reached 185 mph and caused an estimated $7 billion in damages in the Bahamas alone. The hurricane left behind damages affecting over 76,000 people and more than 13,00 homes. As storms raged in the Bahamas and Florida, volunteers from around the country rallied to assist – many of which came from Michigan, registered with the MVR. Groups from Consumers, Michigan Task Force One and American Red Cross all sent volunteers to help. MVR volunteers assisted with long term recovery and mental health services, nursing aid, restoring power, sheltering, and other duties, like cleanup crews. Some of these volunteers have since returned home, but others continue to support with their skills.

Michigan Mortuary Operational Response Team (MI-MORT)
The Michigan Mortuary Operational Response Team is a collaborative effort between Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Bureau of EMS, Trauma and Preparedness (BETP) and the Michigan Funeral Directors Association (MFDA). Using the MVR, MI-MORT operations are divided into subcategories so the right number of volunteers can be deployed to scale. Volunteers choose the appropriate operational section(s) within MI-MORT in MVR to match their skill(s); MI-MORT staff may select and deploy volunteers for a single section or multiple sections, depending on the size of the incident. For example, depending on the need of the Medical Examiner, only pathology staff may be deployed to an incident or the entire MI-MORT team may be deployed.

The MVR has contributed to MI-MORT program improvements by exposing potential staffing gaps. Earlier this year, BETP staff used the MVR to determine how many volunteers were in each operational section and, with MI-MORT staff, launched a targeted recruitment initiative for areas that did not have enough volunteers. Recruitment efforts with radiologists and medical examiner investigators has improved recruitment in some of the identified gaps, with ongoing work to fill other gaps. The MVR also provides data to MI-MORT for reporting of key demographic information and serves as a communication tool.