Since receiving a $50,000 grant to create a local Medical Reserve Corps unit, the Yale-New Haven Health System should now be better prepared for a disaster.

The Medical Reserve Corps unit, MRC, is part of the Citizen Corps formed by U.S. President Bush. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the Yale-New Haven Health System the maximum possible grant based on a number of criteria.

“[The evaluators] were looking for pre-organization,” Craig Stevens of the Health and Human Services Department said. “A structure where [the evaluators] felt confident that the local community could readily establish and function a local Medical Reserve Corps unit.”

The Yale-New Haven Health System was one of 42 organizations across the U.S. that fulfilled that criterion. Almost 200 organizations applied for about $2 million in initial year funding, mostly for startup costs. These expenses include training volunteers, agreeing to specific procedures and developing partnerships with other local organizations like the American Red Cross, faith-based groups and academic institutions.

“[The MRC] gives community members a chance to volunteer so [the funding] wouldn’t go to human resources,” Stevens said. “So this is just one more way to equip and train local responders to help in times of emergency: both man-made and local.”

The organizations that have received the grant have until the end of the fiscal year to spend the money and establish their local MRC. As “demonstration projects,” there is also an emphasis on providing the government with feedback on the difficulties that each unit encounters during its creation.

“This is a brand-new thing for our nation,” Stevens said. “We want [the groups that received grants] to keep in touch about how they are doing. We are trying to figure out how the federal government can most effectively help local communities establish these organizations.”

President Bush has allocated $10 million in his 2003 budget for grants to new MRC units as well as continued support of those that received awards this year. That budget is now being processed in Congress, Stevens said.

“All of us have talents and skills and there is no better place to use those talents than in service to the local community,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said in a press release. “This award will help empower the citizens of New Haven to plan and establish local citizen-centered volunteer Medical Reserve Corps units.”

Once established, MRC volunteers can give their assistance to ordinary local health projects throughout the year, as well as being prepared to respond to emergencies. The press release said volunteers’ responsibilities will include emergency responses, helping with public health and awareness campaigns, administrative work and public communications.

“We would expect people with training to volunteer,” Stevens said. “We will need lawyers, communications experts — in addition to medical professionals. There are lots of ways for people to help out and volunteer.”

Stevens said the only other college-affiliated institution that received the grant was the Institute for Human Services and Public Policy at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, La.