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Sugar House Journal

Medical Reserve Corps volunteers helping test underserved populations

Aug 03, 2020 12h03 ● By Drew Crawford

The Medical Reserve Corps is a group of volunteers that are helping provide underserved populations testing without barriers. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Smith)

By Drew Crawford | [email protected]

There are many unsung heroes that have gone unrecognized during COVID-19 and the volunteers for the Medical Reserve Corps are one of the greatest kept secrets. 

Every day the volunteers are out testing underserved populations, making sure that a drive-up test is accessible to anyone that needs it. 

Aaron Smith volunteers 60 to 80 hours a week, dedicating all of his time to helping make sure that the community stays healthy. 

“I began volunteering as much as I could because there was just school or nothing else, because everything was just closed down. Helping with quarantine, helping with the isolation centers, and helping with one of our big projects which is mobile testing, especially for hotspots or large community sites.”

Eventually Smith was hired on for a full-time role with the organization. Smith, who plans to become a doctor attributes his desire to get involved with the passion that he has for helping people get the care that they need. 

“One single thing can really just change the whole trajectory of where you think you are going to be going for post-grad,” Smith recounted. “My original plan was to be applying for medical school right now, but due to the pandemic happening, it was a little bit harder to really pull everything together, I decided to apply next cycle.”

“It wasn’t really just because it was hard to pull everything together, there was an actual demand for medical help right now, and I felt like if I immediately went into medical school, I would spend all my time just studying and growing that way, but I would always just have this feeling that I could have helped, but I didn’t,” Smith added. “So, I decided just to prolong my application until next year so I could spend this year fully dedicated and giving back to my community and just helping out with this effort as best as I can.”

Smith approaches the opportunity to constantly be testing as his own personal calling and will sometimes wake up as early as 4 a.m. with the excitement that comes from working with his team of like-minded people who love working in the medical field. 

There is never a typical day with the Medical Reserve Corps, and Aaron’s job involves many responsibilities. As the test team lead, Smith oversees and coordinates plans, trains team members and works with other leaders to onboard new staff. 

During times that Smith is not coordinating with members of the logistics team to plan for future testing, his team will spend a lot of time on the ground doing mobile hotspot testing. 

The team will go to specific communities that are underserved or they believe are at greater risk to get COVID-19. They go to a centralized area of the community to advertise with flyers and through conversation that they are going to be testing at a designated time and area. 

Patients do not have to pre-register for testing and are able to drive up to the location with nobody getting turned away. The group is able to test at least one person every minute with the number often being higher. 

Overall, hundreds of people are tested for COVID-19 during every testing session that might not otherwise get a test.

“We try to differentiate ourselves, because if you want to get tested through the county you do not need a doctor’s note, you do not need to prove that you were in contact with somebody that was COVID positive, you don’t even have to be symptomatic,” Smith explained. “We test everyone that comes to our site. It’s free of charge. No insurance information needed, no copay- it’s completely free.”

The team will have a schedule for what testing will look like for the week and are able to prepare in advance to set up the site. They figure out what the traffic flow will be like, arrange a plan for advertising and staff that will work based off a projection of how many people they plan to be tested. 

On the day that people come to be tested they will drive up in their cars, register, and answer a set of epidemiology questions before they are tested. 

Smith realizes that testing people for COVID is an essential way towards stopping its spread. 

“At a time when there may be asymptomatic cases, I believe that it’s one of the most important things to know who actually has it and who doesn’t,” Smith summarized.

The Medical Reserve Corps is a federal volunteer program that was created after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to provide the infrastructure for those who want to help serve their local community. The corps is activated in the community whenever there is a medical crisis in the area. 

The Medical Reserve Corps is always looking for new volunteers to be involved and helped the community, and they have made the process of training straightforward for those who want to participate. Volunteers can help with set up, registration, flagging traffic flow, and testing. To volunteer with the corps email [email protected] and mention Aaron Smith in the email. You do not need medical experience to volunteer with the corps.