The Launch of the Medical Reserve Corps

Mar 30, 2020

To honor the enduring resiliency displayed by New Yorkers during times of adversity, the Flatiron Partnership is taking a look back at the launch of the Medical Reserve Corps. This group of staff and volunteer health care professionals is trained to respond to public health emergencies which can include a variety of responsibilities such as assisting with medical surge capacity during an influenza outbreak or assisting with mass sheltering operations, such as during a coastal storm. “The values forming the foundation for the New York City Medical Reserve Corps (NYC MRC) are trust, honesty, commitment, and respect,” notes the organization’s handbook.

Shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks there was “an enormous desire on the part of many Americans to do something for their country,” reported The New York Times. “Unfortunately, there was no system in place to deploy them as part of an official response, and many were turned away,” according to the NYC MRC. “Later, some of those volunteers came together and proposed that New York City create a group of trained medical volunteers certified to assist in disaster and emergency response efforts.” The innovative idea caught the attention of the Federal government, who called upon not only New Yorkers but individuals across the nation to consider volunteerism as a means of healing.

New York City periodontist Dr. Peter Rosenstein, who was then a member of a community-based forensic dental society on East 24th Street, offered his professional expertise to the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner during the days after 9/11. “I felt it was important to volunteer my services to help the city recover as soon as possible,” recalls Dr. Rosenstein.

The collaborative efforts in NYC helped spark the formation of a national network of volunteers known as the Medical Reserve Corps in 2004 with local MRC units eventually organizing across the 50 states. The current NYC MRC division of the organization is managed by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Dr. Howard A. Zucker, who has been New York State’s Commissioner of Health since 2015, was instrumental in the initial development period of the Corps during his tenure as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

(Photo of Dr. Zucker by Erik Thomas)

Dr. Zucker’s résumé helped prepare him for the career challenge. The Bronx native was known as one of America’s youngest doctors when he graduated from George Washington University’s School of Medicine at the age of 22. “As the state’s chief physician,” notes the New York State Department of Health, “Dr. Zucker leads initiatives to combat the opioids crisis, strengthen environmental health, and end the AIDS epidemic in New York. Since his arrival at the helm of the Department, he has established a network of hospitals equipped to treat Ebola, implemented programs to address the threat of Zika, spearheaded efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance and the recent measles outbreak,” and now the Coronavirus pandemic.

“As a pediatric cardiac critical care specialist, I have dealt with life and death emergencies on a daily basis,” Dr. Zucker told City & State in 2017. “This has shaped my view towards all issues large and small. Responding quickly and with the appropriate treatment is definitely something I’ve tried to incorporate from my clinical career into the creation of public policy.”

To date, NYC MRC has over 9,000 health care volunteers consisting of doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists, mental health professionals, respiratory therapists, and veterinarians. NYC MRC volunteers have served during a number of emergencies in New York City including H1N1, Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy, Hepatitis A outbreaks, and the Ebola response.

In response to the current COVID-19 outbreak, the City has called upon volunteers and reached out to retired health care professionals and current medical students to register and offer their expertise. Thank you to all of the brave, selfless individuals who are supporting New York City’s response efforts during this difficult time. For individuals seeking employment opportunities at the NYC MRC, call their office at 718-422-3001 or email for additional information. And, if you are interested in becoming a volunteer, visit the Help Now website to register. NYC MRC’s headquarters are located at the Gotham Center located at 42-09 28th Street in Long Island City.

“For anyone in the health care field, empathy and humility should be among the highest priorities,” Dr. Zucker revealed to City & State. “To truly deliver excellent care and develop a sound, sustainable policy, you need to understand those whom you are seeking to help…and adjust accordingly.”

Photo of Emergency Services deployed after Hurricane Sandy by Kristen Lepore, Region 2 MRC Coordinator

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