A little-known group of trained volunteers is responding to the coronavirus pandemic in a variety of ways across the North Shore and Cape Ann.
The North Shore-Cape Ann Emergency Preparedness Coalition has deployed about 250 people so far to man call centers, help hospitals screen visitors, and deliver food and medication to vulnerable people, among other tasks.
"We'll be doing anything that's needed to augment public health going forward," said Liisa Jackson, the coalition's director.
The North Shore-Cape Ann coalition is part of the Medical Reserve Corps, an organization established across the country after the 2001 terrorist attacks. It includes 15 communities on the North Shore and Cape Ann through local health departments.
The coalition has about 2,000 medical and non-medical volunteers, including retired doctors and nurses, social workers, police and firefighters, and anyone else who wants to join, Jackson said. The volunteers undergo criminal background checks and attend trainings, drills and exercises throughout the year to prepare to respond to a range of public health concerns.
Mary McCormick-Gendzell, a retired nurse from Marblehead, has been volunteering with the coalition since 2014, helping out at flu clinics and local road races. On Monday, she answered phone calls at a call center set up at Lynn City Hall to take the pressure off local health departments, which have been besieged by calls about where people can get tested for the virus or which businesses can stay open.
"This is the situation they prepared us for," McCormick-Gendzell said. "The medical world knew that this kind of a situation, God forbid, would occur. Now we're ready to help cities and towns as best we can."
McCormick-Gendzell, 71, worked as a nurse for 50 years. Volunteering alongside her at the call center in Lynn was new volunteer Gabrielle Camarro, 23, who graduated from Middlesex Community College in January and works as a nurse at Lawrence General Hospital.
"I'm grateful that I'm getting this experience as a new graduate nurse," said Camarro, who lives in North Andover. "I'm excited to help. It's been a learning experience."
Jackson said the state of Massachusetts, through the Department of Public Health, funds the Medical Reserve Corps more than many states. The North Shore-Cape Ann Emergency Preparedness Coalition has responded to crises such as the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 and the Merrimack Valley gas explosions in 2018.
"All the work we've done throughout the year is helping us to better protect people," Jackson said.
The Medical Reserve Corps is looking for volunteers. If interested, go to www.mrcvolunteer.org.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.