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Ashland MRC Assists the Town and Nation

The Ashland MRC, a small segment of an overarching federal public health and emergency response program, seeks volunteers to help when a crisis emerges.

Ashland Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), a volunteer group in town working within the public health office, has played a key role in Ashland to provide public health assistance and emergency response since its inception in 2005. Housed federally, and broken down by state, region, and town, the MRC started post-9/11, when it was noted that there was a need for additional licensed medical support outside the health care delivery system. Today there are over 900 MRC units across the country.

An executive committee leads the Ashland group, which is part of a 33-town region between Route 128 and 495, Massachusetts Region 4A. Mark Oram, public health agent, advises, while the Board of Health acts as a supportive group. The MRC works with other nonprofits in town as well, such as the Ashland Lions. The Ashland MRC email list has over 100 medical volunteers, yet Michael Gurnick, chair of the Ashland unit, hopes to find more active members.

A variety of people participate in the group—from non-medical volunteers to licensed medical personnel, all working toward one goal of improving the health and well-being of the townspeople.

“The whole focus is a medical mission at the end of the day,” Gurnick said.

Members can learn training for CPR, training in animal services, and much more. At quarterly meetings, in addition to updates on MRC activities, a guest speaker talks about a particular topic or training.

“That livens up our meeting to bring someone in from the outside with a bit of expertise in something,” Gurnick said.

One of the medical missions the MRC has helped with was to vaccinate during the flare up of the new H1N1 flu strain a few years ago. Ashland MRC personnel were staffed along with public health nurses and EMT paramedics in all the schools to help vaccinate.

“We probably vaccinated close to about 24 hundred, mostly kids,” Gurnick said. “That was done on the type of as-needed basis, because at the time, the H1N1 thing was kind of in addition to the regular flu vaccine, so it was kind of an over the top by volume. That is exactly the sort of the thing the MRC is trying to be able to handle.”

Another service of the Ashland MRC is to open up shelters if there is a reason in town. This would work in conjunction with the Red Cross.

“Shelter operations. That’s always critical, because we live in an area that could be prone to flooding,” Gurnick said. “We have blizzards, we lose electricity. That sort of thing goes on.”

The Ashland MRC has provided not only local opportunities but state and national ones as well.

“We’ve actually had people go away from here to the Berkshires in Worcester County to help out with the ice storms there, a few years ago,” Gurnick said. “That was to assist with shelter operations. We actually had one that traveled to the Gulf Coast two or three years ago now in conjunction with the Red Cross to help out with problems. There were hurricanes down in Louisiana and Georgia. Again, that’s where the national picture comes in to play versus local.”

Gurnick noted that Ashland is lucky to not have a lot of local issues, besides the occasional blizzard.

“However, should they [issues] arise, here is the MRC volunteer group that is ready to lend a hand on something like that,” Gurnick said.

Gurnick explained his thoughts on the Ashland unit.

“I like the fact that it’s locally based especially. Ashland’s a nice community because more time than not you are on a first name basis with a lot of different people in town, especially some of the people in different realms of public office, like selectmen, Board of Health.”

Gurnick welcomes new volunteers to join the Ashland MRC. Email him at [email protected] or call 617-543.1499. The next quarterly meeting is Dec. 17.

by By Rebecca Kensil, Editor