Nurses assist in post-hurricane recovery efforts

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Published: October 24,2005

Mississippi Gulf Coast — When a group of 10 nurses from Oregon believed the American Red Cross was taking too long to dispatch them to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to assist in post-hurricane recovery efforts, a businessman from the northwest state chartered two jets and flew the nurses to South Mississippi.

After driving for two hours to Ocean Springs, they stumbled across hundreds of evacuees needing help at the Christus Victor Lutheran Church, which had set up a makeshift medical clinic free to patients needing tetanus shots, wound care and medication. The crying room had been turned into an examining room, and the vestibule was a waiting area. The nurses quickly set up camp in the sanctuary and went to work.

“These nurses were so sweet and dear,” said K.C. Arnold, an advanced practice registered nurse (ANP or nurse practitioner) from Ocean Springs who volunteered her services at the church during lunch breaks and on weekends. “They really, truly wanted to make a difference.”

In the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina, which rolled ashore Aug. 29, the Mississippi Board of Nursing issued 246 temporary permits to registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and approved verification for 16 ANPs from out of state. In Mississippi, 27 ANPs volunteered to help, along with hundreds of nurses from within the state.

“The first thing the Mississippi Nurses Association did following the hurricane was to work with the board of nursing to make sure that nurses who wanted to come here from out of state and those who wanted to go to the Coast from within Mississippi were able to do that, and that we had a coordinated effort to send them where they were needed, doing what needed to be done,” said Ricki Garrett, executive director of the 1,700-member Mississippi Nurses Association (MNA).

“The board put the nurses on teams, and I think we’ve dispatched about 293 teams so far. We offered to provide transportation to out of state nurses who flew into Jackson, and I’ve been in constant communication with fellow executive directors around the nation, Canada and other countries who sent money and/or supplies to us to distribute along the coast where needed,” she said.

Every week since the hurricane, Garrett and nursing professionals have toured the affected areas, delivering medical supplies, along with personal items to nurses working on the Gulf Coast. “It’s very difficult for them to go shopping, as you can imagine,” said Garrett. “They’re operating in very primitive conditions.”

“At Hancock Medical Center, which was devastated, 80% of the nurses lost everything, so they’re handling enormous losses in their professional and personal lives.” said Garrett. “Some of the nurses have said they were so appreciative of people sending clothes, even though they no longer had closets to put them in.”

MNA initiated a relief fund for nurses, beginning with a $5,000 donation from the publisher of MS RN, which was matched with a $5,000 donation from the Michigan Nurses Association. The fund quickly surpassed $13,000, and the MNA board of directors is mulling how to best use the money, including helping relocate nurses from the affected areas in-state temporarily, helping them in their practice, and/or paying their licensure renewals fees.

The relief fund initiated by the American Nurses Association to benefit affected nurses in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama has already topped $14,000.

“We had planned a statewide convention on the Coast for mid-October, and because we knew that nurses were going to need to come together for support and tell their stories and get some continuing education to help them deal with the short- and long-term medical and psychological effects of hurricane, we moved it to Pearl River Resort November 1-4, and have been able to secure national speakers to talk about subjects ranging from disaster nursing to compassion fatigue,” said Garrett. “These nurses have been working in a very challenging environment. Computers and hospital equipment and beds that the Hancock Medical Center had been accumulating for years are now basically sitting in big piles of trash.”

Garrett said nurses have been “appreciative and resilient” throughout the ordeal. “I think everyone’s been amazed at the level of support,” she said. “We’ve had emails from all over the world from nursing professionals offering to help.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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