LEWISTON — New York City was getting inundated with volunteers desperate to help after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. Some of those people were qualified. Others weren’t. Many just showed up one day and said they were ready to work, no plan, training or background check.

It was chaotic and problematic, and generally not a great situation.

In Maine, officials realized they wouldn’t be any more ready than New York City to handle a massive influx of people clamoring to help during a public health emergency. And if no one came to help? That would be a whole different problem.

“We needed to have a back stock of volunteers ready and willing to serve,” said Sadie Faucher, volunteer management coordinator for Maine Responds, the statewide program that rose from those turbulent days of 2001.

Today, the program has more than 3,500 volunteers. Most are medical personnel — doctors, nurses, EMTs and others who can handle the clinical side of things. About 400 are regular folks who can answer phones, direct traffic or deal with logistics in a public health crisis.

A crisis like this pandemic.

We spoke to five who are ready and willing to put themselves out there.

GREG D’AUGUSTINE

Doctor Greg D’Augustine at his home in Greene on Feb. 25. Although he has volunteered to help with the COVID vaccination process, he has yet to be called upon given the limited vaccines available to be administered. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

A retired Lewiston-Auburn surgeon, Greg D’Augustine left his practice a couple of years ago but not his need to help others.

“I felt that I still had something I could offer to the community if the need arose,” said D’Augustine. “Here’s a perfect situation where I might be of some benefit.”

He signed up with Maine Responds about a year ago.

When the program put out the call last summer for people to help with contact tracing, he raised his hand. But at 69, he was at greater risk for COVID-19 and the training was being done in person. The program asked him not to take the risk, he said. A couple of months later, Maine Responds opened up its training to older volunteers, but by then D’Augustine said he was the one who didn’t feel comfortable with the risk.

He’s now waiting for the big call: Give shots at a state-run mass vaccination site.

There have been glitches for vaccine volunteers. Many retired doctors said they’ve been told — by health systems, the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine or their fellow  doctors — that they can’t get an emergency license to give shots now if their old medical license expired more than two years ago. That used to be true. A few weeks ago, the federal government began allowing a five-year window.

So far, most vaccination clinics have been run by health systems and hospitals, places that use their own volunteers. MaineHealth, for example, uses thousands to help staff its nine Maine vaccine sites. Its Brunswick site uses more volunteers than paid staff.

However, the state just started partnering with health systems for three large vaccination sites. Foucher said Maine Responds volunteers are expected to be deployed to vaccination clinics in a few weeks.

“The (low vaccine) supply is the main problem,” D’Augustine said. “What I’m anticipating is that at some point they’re going to need us.”

POPPY CONNOR-CROUCH and PAULA MARCUS-PLATZ

Poppy Connor-Crouch and Paula Marcus-Platz know what it’s like to talk with people who are stressed. As licensed clinical social workers, they spent their careers helping people cope.

Now they’re doing the same thing for free.

Paula Marcus-Platz, a licensed clinical social worker, is one of the volunteers staffing Maine FrontLine WarmLine, a confidential help line for stressed out front-line workers, first responders, and health care workers. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Connor-Crouch and Marcus-Platz volunteer to staff the Maine FrontLine WarmLine, a confidential help line for stressed out frontline workers, first responders, and health care workers.

“I automatically thought about how to help,” said Marcus-Platz, who lives in Auburn and still sees clients after 40 years as a clinician. “The other thing is that any one of us who is in the field knows how hard it is sometimes to manage stress, but how simple it is sometimes to help people learn how to manage stress.”

The Warmline runs 12 hours a day, seven days a week. In terms of hours volunteered, it is one of the largest volunteer programs in Maine Responds

WarmLine volunteers must pass a 12-hour training course in order to join the roster. Once they do, they can sign up for a four-hour shift. More than 100 volunteers have gone through the training since last spring; 44 are currently active.

Roughly two-thirds of the WarmLine’s volunteers are retirees.

Calls can ebb and flow. Sometimes volunteers take several calls a week; sometimes they take none.

Lately, many of the callers have been teachers.

Poppy Connor-Crouch is a licensed clinical social worker who worked in private practice in Lewiston-Auburn for 38 years and retired in 2018. She now volunteers for the Maine FrontLine WarmLine. Submitted photo

“Some (teachers) are not in the schools all the time, so their normal ways of connecting to colleagues hasn’t been as available as other front-line workers who aren’t working as remotely,” said Connor-Crouch, who worked in private practice in Lewiston-Auburn for 38 years and retired in 2018.

Marcus-Platz has taken those calls, too.

“I’ve learned a lot about how teachers think and what teachers are specifically feeling as compared to maybe other people from other parts of the community,” she said. “Teachers that were calling in seemed to be very overwhelmed in large part and didn’t necessarily feel they had the support they needed.”

The two women and other WarmLine volunteers offer that support.

“There’s power in people not feeling alone and isolated,” Marcus-Platz said. “It’s critical and essential to what we do.”

The WarmLine isn’t Connor-Crouch’s only job with Maine Responds. She’s also signed up to help staff mass vaccination sites and could be deployed there when needed.

To her, volunteering doesn’t just help other people, it’s also a gift for her.

“We’re all in this community together. This is a way in which we can connect,” she said. “No one is alone in this. This is a pandemic that affects all of us.”

GARY McGRANE

Like Connor-Crouch and Marcus-Platz, Gary McGrane volunteers for the FrontLine WarmLine.

However, he’s not a licensed counselor. He’s a retired teacher, and he knows exactly what teachers face every day and why they’re likely stressed out.

With 24,000 teachers, teaching assistants and education support staff in Maine, McGrane said, he thought it was important for an educator be a voice on the other end of the line for them.

“The whole impetus for me wanting to do this work was because of the number of teachers I’ve come across over the years. And I understand,” he said. “I believe they were and are front-line workers in the state of Maine and need as much psychological first aid as they can garner from teachers in particular.”

McGrane, who lives in Jay, has taken 40 or so shifts since the WarmLine started last spring. However, he has yet to actually take a call.

“Every time I get on there (for a shift), somebody else is on there as well and they take the call,” McGrane said.

He’d like to be able to help — that’s the whole reason he volunteered and went through training — but he’s OK with someone else getting to calls first. That just means there are a lot of others like him, willing to help.

“The point is, there are volunteers readily available from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening,” he said.

LANI GRAHAM

Lani Graham knows public health.

She’s been a family doctor. She headed the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention in the early 1990s during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She led what was then the Maine Bureau of Health in the early 2000s. She worked on tobacco control and prevention for decades, and she’s been an advocate for environmental health.

Lani Graham has worked in public health for decades. During the pandemic, she volunteers with Maine Responds. Submitted photo

“If you’re somebody who’s used to helping out a lot, it’s hard to watch from a distance,”  said Graham, who retired in 2017 and now lives in Freeport.

So when COVID-19 hit the state, Graham wanted to help.

“I’m on the (Maine Responds) list. Whenever they have some kind of need, I respond to it,” she said.

Graham offered to help with contact tracing last year. But like D’Augustine, she was told training would be in person and her age put her at greater risk for COVID-19.

She’s offered to give vaccines, but she hasn’t yet been called to a site.

She’s signed up to talk with groups about COVID-19 vaccines and to answer questions about the shots.

She currently answers calls for the FrontLine WarmLine.

“It’s excellent. I love being able to talk to my peers who are on the front lines,” she said.

Even though she once led the state’s public health activities, Graham has no ego attached to her volunteer efforts. She’d be just as happy to help usher people around a vaccination site or do data entry as she would anything else. It’s not the job that matters, she said, it’s the need.

“I just would like to be able to help if I can,” she said. “It’s an honor to be able to serve others who are working so hard.”

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