Corps, volunteers honored

Published 9:42 pm Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Western Tidewater Medical Reserve Corps recently was recognized for the work it does to improve the health of rural Virginians.

The corps and some of its volunteers were recognized as Rural Health Champions by the Virginia State Office of Rural Health, within the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity.

Those recognized were Francisco “Frank” Jusino, who led the unit’s involvement in the Suffolk Peanut Festival and the Isle of Wight Conty Fair; Reba Clayton, a nursing professional who is one of the longest serving volunteers; Amy Wagner, a registered nurse who instructs CPR, AED and first aid courses for volunteers and community members; and Kathy Birdsong, who has participated in 46 separate events and contributed more than 227 hours of volunteer services.

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The corps as a whole also received recognition.

“We’re volunteers who work with the local health departments,” said Jim Steil, coordinator of the Western Tidewater corps. “We take care of day-to-day public health initiatives and public health emergency response, although we have not had any emergencies we have had to respond to, which is a good thing.”

The corps volunteers at large public events such as festivals, fairs and more. It visits health fairs and National Night Out events to spread health information, conducted first aid at several rest stops during the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure and had more than a dozen volunteers at the Mission of Mercy free dental clinic.

In addition to volunteering at regular events, members spend much of their time training for emergencies.

“We’ve got about 182,000 people in our health district, and we have two hospitals,” Steil said. “If something bad happens … we’re going to need people to respond immediately. A lot of good people are going to come out at the right time for the right reasons, but we don’t know anything about them.”

The medical reserve corps provides a group of volunteers who are pre-credentialed.

“We’ve got volunteers from almost every walk of life, including medical and non-medical volunteers,” Steil said. Medical professionals include doctors, nurses, dentists, nurse practitioners, behavioral health and substance abuse counselors, massage therapists and more.

“Everybody brings some capability to us,” Steil said.

The organization is growing rapidly. About four years ago, there were 23 volunteers. It boasts 180 now.

“We’ve grown quite a bit,” Steil said. “We’ve got so many more exciting things in the future. Because our unit has grown in numbers and capability, it gives us a lot to look forward to.”

For more information about how to volunteer with the corps, email Steil at