Hawai‘i Medical Reserve Corps receives $376K in federal grants

LIHU‘E — The Hawai‘i Medical Reserve Corps has been awarded $376,000 in federal grants in an effort to bolster the state’s ability to respond to disasters and other public health emergencies.

Formed by Congress shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001, the 300,000-volunteer-strong MRC is a national network of local groups dedicated to responding to community health needs.

MRC units bolster their community’s preparedness and emergency response infrastructures by providing supplemental personnel when needed, thereby making their communities less likely to be reliant on state and national resources.

During extreme weather events and large public gatherings, units have provided support for emergency shelter operations and medical care. Most notably in recent years, though, the network has contributed significantly to the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing services ranging from community screening and testing operations to call center work and vaccine administrations.

“MRC units across the country have been integral in helping their local communities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell in March, when the grants were first announced. “Many units took on new missions, conducted new training and continue to adapt plans to meet their communities’ evolving needs.”

Local MRC volunteers are trained as part of a team, and work within their community’s health, preparedness and response infrastructures to help meet local medical and public health needs during emergencies. MRC volunteers also promote preparedness in their communities to improve everyday health and reduce potential public health risks and vulnerabilities.

The $376,000 competitive grant was one of 33 awarded by the federal department’s Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, for states, territories, tribes and other public entities, to expand their MRC network.

Approximately $50 million has been made available to MRC units as part of the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package aimed at speeding up the country’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent recession.

The grant will be split between Hawai‘i’s four MRC units — O‘ahu, Hawai‘i Island, Maui and Kaua‘i — all of which operate under the state Department of Health. The department says it will use the funds to build preparedness and response capacity by providing education, training and outreach to community members. Additionally, MRC intends to increase capacity through volunteer recruitment.

“These new grant awards can help meet community health, health emergency preparedness and health equity needs,” said MRC Program Director Dustun Ashton. “With this funding, jurisdictions can foster MRC unit growth and engagement in their communities for decades to come.”


Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or jhealy@thegardenisland.com.