When the first coronavirus quarantine precautions were implemented in mid-March and in-person classes were cancelled, the Academic Senate of the MU Faculty of Medicine began to discuss ways of helping healthcare facilities. Martin Janků, a medical student, stepped up to coordinate the volunteer activities and as he says, his job can best be described as constantly changing.
In the beginning, most of Janků’s days were taken up contacting the various institutions and departments participating in erecting the tents in the grounds of the University Hospital Brno in Bohunice, which now serve as novel coronavirus specimen collection points, along with other institutions that needed help. He was in touch with hospitals, the Regional Public Health Department and the emergency line 112.
“I also put together a team of people who coordinate the incoming requests from various facilities and the volunteers, and they are all doing a fantastic job,” says Janků, who could only take a short break from his duties to give this interview.
The coordinators meet daily between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. at the MU Faculty of Medicine and often work until midnight. Each day starts with multiple tasks that need to be got through as fast as possible and before they can be finished, dozens of new requests pour in: “We work very closely with the faculty management and one of the most important things is that they trust us students to do this job,” says Janků.
“However, the volunteers working at the hospital receptions, departments, call centres and specimen collection tents are doing a much more important job and often pull 12-hour shifts in very demanding conditions,” stresses Janků. Volunteer safety is of utmost importance and Janků works hard to make sure that all the volunteers have the right protective equipment and are trained to use it.
From university to local hospitals
Hundreds of students responded to the first call for volunteers and more continue to sign up. “I was first surprised and then overjoyed at how many students are willing to help. Our hospitals are experiencing staffing shortages caused by the new disease. It’s all hands on deck right now and they are grateful for the students’ help.”
Most student volunteers are currently helping in the two university hospitals in Brno, although some of the medical, nursing and other students are active in local hospitals in Břeclav, Ivančice and elsewhere as the coordinators extend the network. They work together with other faculties of medicine to cover the whole of the Czech Republic.
In addition to the exhausting work and other difficulties, the volunteers sometimes must deal with frightened people. The video of a driver who insisted on getting tested in the early days when everything was being set up went viral, and Janků says it was an unpleasant situation. “In response to this, we contacted the Brno municipal police who now help at the collection tents, and we are offering mental health support through Masaryk University.”
“On the other hand, we have received gifts and donations from the public. Oříšek, a company dealing in nuts, donated 40 kilos of nuts and dried fruit to distribute to the volunteers,” says Janků, giving an example of how people are supporting the students in their work.
How you can help
“I would like to thank the MU Faculty of Medicine and our management for their support and help and all our team at the headquarters for their amazing and vital work. And, of course, many thanks to all our volunteers. They are doing a great but demanding job and just the fact that they volunteered to do this is wonderful,” says Janků, adding that they are still looking for more help. Volunteers from the MU Faculty of Medicine can sign up here.
Masaryk University also launched a website called MUNI helps at munipomaha.cz/en where all students and members of the public, regardless of their specialisations or skills, can volunteer to help, ask for help from MU volunteers or make a donation to support the volunteer service. The campaign has already raised over 1.5 million crowns (54,000 euros).