Humans need humans: Volunteers help medical workers in hospitals

May 11, 2020

Dozens of inpatient clinics throughout Moscow are taking in patients with COVID-19. Around 25,000 hospital beds have been additionally provided. Doctors and other medical staff who are working in overdrive are getting assistance from hundreds of volunteers who have taken over some of their workload. The volunteers are not only dealing with paperwork but also giving a helping hand in the red zone where patients are being treated. spoke to volunteers of the Moscow Region Department of the Medical Volunteers national public movement. The first participants of the movement helped out at the Sklifosovsky Research Institute for Emergency Medicine back in 2013. The Sklifosovsky Volunteers project played an important part in shaping the national movement. The Moscow Region branch cooperates with Moscow hospitals, coordinates medical volunteers and works closely with all medical schools in the city.

The volunteers spoke about their duties, how their day is organised and whether it is difficult to become a volunteer during the pandemic.

Anastasia Brailovskaya: We become best friends

Volunteer at the medical centre in Kommunarka, public awareness and prevention coordinator at the Moscow branch of the Medical Volunteers national movement

Volunteers are doing everything, from helping the mid-level medical personnel to assisting the doctors and the hospital administration. We are working both in the contaminated zone (also called ‘red zone,’ it is where patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 are treated) and the clean ‘green zone.’ We insert IV catheters, administer intravenous medication and intramuscular injections, and work in the treatment room. We perform all the duties of a desk or ward nurse, help the doctors in the staff rooms and during their rounds, fill out the journals and assist the epidemiologist in the administration. We change bed linen, feed patients and talk with them. It is very important because the staff does not always have time for this with the current workload.

The strict quarantine is affecting our work. For example, inserting needles when you are wearing a mask and two or three pairs of gloves presents a new level of difficulty. With this kind of experience, nurses will eventually be giving excellent injections. And, of course, doctors are heroes.

Volunteers’ selflessness is amazing. Everybody wants to be helpful so much so they are willing to be here 24/7. Although we do monitor the schedule thoroughly. We work in six-hour shifts, from 8 am to 2 pm and from 2 pm to 8 pm. Occasionally, some people take shifts from 8 am to 8 pm or even work nights from 8 pm to 8 am. Sometimes volunteers stay for 24 hours if it is really necessary or if volunteers want to. Then they have to take a break though for two days.

The volunteers who are allowed in the red zone are senior university students or graduates of medical colleges, resident doctors and practicing healthcare professionals. They are trained and authorised to work. Only medical professionals can adequately evaluate the risks of being in the red zone. I myself am a final-year medical student at the Russian Peoples’ Friendship University.

Volunteers also take safety training. The hospital has a gateway system, with a ‘clean’ gateway for leaving the clean zone and entering the contaminated area and the ‘unclean’ gateway for leaving the contaminated area and entering the clean zone. These two gateways never meet. Inside the gateway there are always people who are monitoring and checking; there are notices and signs reminding us about protection and safety. Like the rest of the staff, volunteers put on two pairs of gloves, a face mask, a hat, a respirator, shoe covers and a hazmat suit. This is a compulsory requirement for those entering the contaminated area.

Patients already know the volunteers by names when we visit them although we are wearing protective  gear and they can only see our eyes. They speak with us about anything they like. These people have to spend two weeks in isolation wards completely alone; sometimes there are two patients in a ward. They have no communication with the outside world besides their phones. For the time that the patients are here, we all, doctors, nurses, volunteers and patients, become best friends. We are following each other on social media and checking in all the time. I don’t even know how else it could be like in such a situation that is so difficult mentally and morally.

Once, another volunteer and I were escorting discharged patients to the exit. Four people from the same section happened to be discharged at the same time. It is such an overwhelming feeling when you are releasing four now healthy people who have got over the disease. They feel great, they smile, wave and say thank you.

Dmitry Tikhonov: Every bit of help is important

Volunteer at the Oleg Filatov City Hospital No. 15

I am helping junior medical staff. My shift usually begins at 8 am. I come in, put on my protective gear, enter the red zone and start following instructions. I can help in the cafeteria distributing food, remove IV drips or call a doctor.

Volunteers are provided with personal protective gear. We wear two pairs of gloves, a protective suit, respirators plus goggles. There are certain rules for putting the things on and taking them off to avoid getting infected.

I am a medical student. I understand that hospitals need extra hands so I decided to become a volunteer. Every bit of help is important. The work is hard. You have no time to sit down but you get used to it. Walking around in a hazmat suit is not easy and it is no simple task to breathe through a respirator.

I was really surprised by the actual number of patients. When you read the statistics and then see the real picture, you realise the scale of morbidity. Doctors are working to the point of exhaustion; some are sleeping in the hospital or staying in hotels to protect their families. I have also isolated myself from my family and am living alone.

The patients in the clinic are friendly; they listen to the doctors and follow their advice. There are enough volunteers in my hospital. Some of them came here after a medical college or a nursing school.

Maria Mamontova: Everybody appreciates our help, from the chief doctor to ward attendants

Medical volunteer coordinator at City Hospital No. 40 in Kommunarka; Medical Volunteering Services Coordinator at the Moscow branch of the Medical Volunteers national movement; medical student at the Russian Peoples’ Friendship University

I coordinate medical volunteers and put them in touch with the medical organisations that need help. There are plenty of people who want to volunteer right now. Even before the pandemic, we had a big team helping city hospitals. Now even more people have joined. Almost all of them got transferred to the hospital units and inpatient clinics that were repurposed for treating coronavirus patients. We are meeting the hospitals’ needs for help.

I am also assisting in the red zone of the Kommunarka hospital. We perform various duties like helping doctors, medical staff, administrative staff and in laboratories. We are helping in every way we can. We are a close-knit team; everybody is friendly with the volunteers and appreciative of our help, from the chief doctor to ward attendants. You simply fall in love with their professionalism and indescribable dedication when you see the doctors, nurses and other volunteers at work.

Hospital administrations use an individual approach. They ask volunteers about their training, skills and qualifications and assign them to specific jobs according to their knowledge and abilities. If you have sufficient qualifications, they will trust you with more responsibilities.

Patients recognise volunteers by their eyes only, it is really nice. They remember and wait for us. We are like little lights; we pop in, share our positive energy and motivate them to quickly recover. We are becoming best friends. They have us and we have them.

I am a second-year nursing student at the Russian Peoples’ Friendship University. I have been volunteering as long as I remember and joined large volunteering organisations about five years ago now.

I like to say that humans need humans. I believe that when somebody is in trouble you must always give a helping hand, voluntarily and expect nothing in return. Since I am a medical worker, my help cannot only be limited to my working hours. Medicine entails a much greater effort. You must be willing to help your colleagues out and all other people. It is my calling and my life’s work.

Every day I see volunteers who are turning into professionals. They are a team and work really well together. We have been helping out in hospitals for a month now. I can’t describe my feelings when one big team is working on one job together and believes in it. Every time a patient is discharged, we are really happy and just like little children.

Food, medicines and psychological support: all about the job of social assistants

Information for those who want to join medical volunteers is published on the movement’s website. You can also help by joining the We Are Together campaign. More than 15,000 We Are Together volunteers deliver food and medicine to people who have to comply with self-isolation requirements.

Patients with COVID-19 in Moscow are treated in federal, city and private inpatient clinics, including the medical centre in Kommunarka, infectious disease hospitals No. 1 and No. 2, the hospital at Shabolovskaya station and the Sklifosovsky Research Institute for Emergency Medicine. All the hospitals have modern medical equipment and highly-skilled medical teams.

For more information on preventing and treating COVID-19, call the hot line at +7 (495) 870 4509 (8 am to 9 pm daily) or visit the special project


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