Base Hospital 43: The Emory Unit

Margaret A. Clark, MS, RN, RRT-NPS

In This Article

Medical Reserve Corps: Then and Now

The formation of a military hospital unit staffed and supplied by members of a specific institution has never been attempted again on such a scale in American history. By World War II, the Medical Corps of the Army and Navy were well developed and better able to respond to emerging conflicts. A civilian-based Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) was no longer needed. Some institutions, including Emory University, would sponsor a hospital in the next war, and the 43rd Base Hospital would see service in World War II. But the degree of local enlistment, sponsorship, and participation was not the same. Some of the base hospitals have written their histories, many have not.[27] Some, like the Emory Unit, collected reminiscences that they shared among themselves.[10] Each unit's history is unique; many of these histories are in danger of being lost. Now, in the beginning of the 21st century, a new chapter of MRC units is only just beginning.

In January of 2002, President George W. Bush asked all Americans to offer meaningful volunteer service in their communities in the text of his State of the Union address.[28] Then Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson officially launched the new Medical Reserve Corps in July 2002. The program started with approximately 42 grants totaling $2 million awarded to community-based organizations to begin building local MRC units.[29] A national MRC program office was established in the US Surgeon General's Office to provide national coordination and technical assistance. The MRC program is a partner of the White House's USA Freedom Corps and the Department of Homeland Security's Citizen Corps. Ten regional MRC coordinators have been established and are co-located with the 10 regional Health and Human Services (HHS) offices throughout the country.[30]

MRC units in the early 1900s, like the Emory unit, were formed from specific medical facilities or institutions and explicitly intended to have a combat role. Their structure and staffing was predetermined by the Department of the Army. In contrast, modern units are community-based and can address an array of public health tasks established by the US Surgeon General. These include improvement of health literacy, disease prevention, eliminating health disparities, and improving public health preparedness. Modern MRC units can organize themselves to address one or many of these goals.[30]

The staffing and unit structure of the modern unit is determined by needs assessments conducted in and by the community. It is intended that these units will augment and strengthen the public health infrastructure of their communities.[29] Volunteers have the option of working outside their MRC units in times of national emergency. In 2005, more than 1500 were deployed outside of their local communities to disaster-affected areas. An estimated 200 volunteers from 25 MRC units were activated by the HHS, while more than 450 volunteers supported the American Red Cross disaster operations in the southern states and Gulf Coast areas. There are no plans to deploy MRC units into a combat situation in support of US troops.

Could a specific institution provide a MRC unit as they did 100 years earlier? The Surgeon General's program does not preclude that.


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