Introducing: New Medical Reserve Corps Leaders

We are handing over the responsibility for the MRC to Drs. Clayton Olney and Jim Bristow.

  • Thursday, December 31, 2020 5:54pm
  • Opinion
Ina Oppliger and John Osborn

Ina Oppliger and John Osborn

No lawsuits. No baseless claims of fraudulent voting. No news conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. No. We are committed to a smooth transition. On January 1, 2021, we will hand over responsibility for the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) to Drs. Clayton Olney and Jim Bristow.

Before we introduce them, here are a few MRC highlights from our past three years as Co-Coordinators.

To borrow from Dickens, these are the best of times and the worst of times. Vaccines are rolling out across the world, first to higher-risk workers and the elderly. Meanwhile, death rates are climbing and the virus is spreading more rapidly. ICUs are filling up, or full and overflowing. Our colleagues — nurses, physicians, and others who care for COVID-infected patients — are pushed to the wall. Many are scared for their patients, their own families and themselves.

You can help ease the load. If you’re seeing family over the holidays, quarantine for 2 weeks afterward. If you have been exposed to someone with COVID or have any viral symptoms, please get tested and help us contain the spread. For the MRC’s COVID testing site, dial (844) 469-4554 or visit

Here are two more numbers for your smartphone. Are you depressed? Struggling? Contact the Vashon MRC’s Community Care Team support line (206) 701-0694. If you are in crisis call 9-1-1 or the national suicide prevention hotline, call 1-800-273-8255, or visit

Get vaccinated when you can. As physicians and nurses, we respect and honor patient choice. We are also living the consequences of poor choices that lead to a viral transmission. By getting vaccinated, you become one less person at risk.

Before introducing the new MRC leaders, we want to give thanks. You are part of an incredibly special community that is weathering this catastrophe better than most. Talent on this island runs deep, as does volunteer spirit. Thousands of volunteer hours help explain the data: Vashon Island, despite some scares, is doing better than most of King County. And here on Vashon, people are writing checks, big and small, to keep islanders fed and housed. During these darkest days, neighbors are helping neighbors. This is community action at its best.

COVID holds many lessons. One big lesson: the need for Congress and the Administration to better support MRCs. COVID and coming climate change and earthquake catastrophes underscore that high-functioning MRCs will be essential for saving lives and building community resilience. Pandemic lessons include that MRCs can be especially valuable in serving vulnerable rural and tribal communities and communities of color.

However, the nation’s more than 800 MRCs are grossly underfunded, as the Trump administration moved to further cut already-inadequate funding. Vashon MRC has reached out to Congressional offices, national staff with the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). We will need to continue our advocacy work – teaming with NACCHO to keep MRC issues before Congress and the incoming Biden Administration.

Our 100-member Vashon MRC would not exist without two organizations. VashonBePrepared is our “housing agency,” the nonprofit organization that supports us. Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) is our “sponsoring agency.” During the pandemic and emergency activation, our MRC is part of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). We never forget that the many talented people of VashonBePrepared, Vashon Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), VIFR, and Vashon EOC make the MRC’s work possible. We stand on their shoulders while working shoulder to shoulder. We are a team. Thank you!

Okay, and finally, here is the best part. We are honored to introduce the two physicians who will be picking up our service on Jan. 1 and serving their three-year co-coordinator terms.

Clayton Olney DO, FAAP is a staff neonatologist at Madigan Army Medical Center. He graduated in 1993 from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, then completed residencies in pediatric medicine (1993-1996) and neonatal medicine (1996-1999). Clayton started his life’s work in healthcare as an EMT-Paramedic in 1984 – a driving force that imbues his volunteer work with the Vashon MRC. Clayton has brought energy, vision, and public service dedication to his work with the Vashon MRC, especially during the pandemic. Clayton is already looking beyond the pandemic to training and other preparations for the gigantic Cascadia Rising 2022 earthquake exercise.

Jim Bristow MD trained as a Pediatric Cardiologist but worked primarily as a genome scientist before stepping up to lead the MRC’s COVID testing program. He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1981, followed by residencies in pediatrics at UCSF and Cardinal Glennon Memorial Hospital in St. Louis, fellowships in endocrinology at Washington University in St. Louis and pediatric cardiology at UCSF. In 2004, Jim became Deputy Director of the Joint Genome Institute at Lawrence Berkley National Lab, while maintaining a cardiology practice. In March 2020, Jim approached the MRC about on-island testing for COVID. The rest is history. (see “Remote and Ready to Fight Coronavirus’s Next Wave,” New York Times, May 16, 2020).

Clayton Olney DO, FAAP is a staff neonatologist at Madigan Army Medical Center. Jim Bristow MD trained as a Pediatric Cardiologist but worked primarily as a genome scientist before stepping up to lead the MRC’s COVID testing program (Courtesy Photos).

Clayton Olney DO, FAAP is a staff neonatologist at Madigan Army Medical Center. Jim Bristow MD trained as a Pediatric Cardiologist but worked primarily as a genome scientist before stepping up to lead the MRC’s COVID testing program (Courtesy Photos).

We close with “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Each of us knows perseverance to survive a tough day, then wake up the next day and do it again. With COVID, too much is at stake to do otherwise. Now, in this pandemic’s darkest days, a vaccine means the first light of dawn – hope’s glimmer on the horizon.

Be smart. Be safe. Mask. Distance. Wash your hands. Stay home.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve our island community during this pandemic.

Dr. Ina Oppliger and Dr. John Osborn signed on three years ago as coordinator of Vashon Medical Reserve Corps and quickly recruited Dr. Ina Oppliger to serve as co-coordinator. The VMRC is a unit of VashonBePrepared and Vashon Emergency Operations Center.

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