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Nurses Reach Out to Victims of Haiti Earthquake

Monday January 18, 2010
American nurse Carol Smith of Utah comforts Haitian orphan Charlie Schumacher outside the U.S. Embassy in Port au Prince.
American nurse Carol Smith of Utah comforts Haitian orphan Charlie Schumacher outside the U.S. Embassy in Port au Prince.
(John A. Torres, FLORIDA TODAY)
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Nurses across the U.S. immediately mobilized this week to offer aid to people in Haiti after Tuesday’s devastating 7.0 earthquake. The World Health Organization reports at least eight hospitals have been damaged or destroyed in the Caribbean island nation and there are a large number of survivors suffering severe trauma injuries.

The U.N. estimates one-third of Haiti’s 9 million people, including 2 million in the capital of Port-au-Prince, have been affected by the earthquake. Oxfam’s humanitarian coordinator in Port-au-Prince, Cedric Perus, estimates several thousand people are dead.

Immediate health priorities include: search and rescue of survivors trapped underneath rubble; treatment of people with major trauma injuries; preventing the infection of wounds; provision of clean water and sanitation; and ensuring breast-feeding is continued, according to the WHO.

Another priority will be to prevent communicable diseases, such as respiratory infections and diarrhea, from spreading.

“Most patients that we have seen are suffering from broken bones, but some are in more serious condition and there is no hospital to refer them to. Medical supplies, such as IVs, pain medicines and bandages, are extremely limited,” Margaret Aguirre, director of global communications for International Medical Corps, said in a news release.

Nurse-Led Effort
Some 4,500 nurses have responded to a call by a national nursing union for volunteers to travel to Haiti to assist earthquake victims. The first response teams will fly to Miami as early as Saturday and prepare to deploy to Haiti as soon as proper security for the nurses is in place, says Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the National Nurses Union, which was created last month by a merger of the California Nurses Association, the United American Nurses and the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

“Nurses will be fundamental to the disaster relief process to provide immediate healing and therapeutic support to the patients and families facing the devastation from this tragic earthquake,” DeMoro said.

The union’s relief arm, the Registered Nurse Response Network, is interviewing nurses who have applied to go to Haiti through the organization’s Web site. Priority at this point is being given to those who have disaster response training, speak the language of the country, and have trauma, emergency or pediatric experience, organizers say, but as the crisis continues new teams will replace those who go as part of the first wave of responders.

Nurses who go to Haiti must have proper immunizations and prophylactics against typhoid fever, hepatitis A and B, tetanus and malaria, as well as a current passport, though organizers say they are working with government officials to see whether passport requirements could be expedited or waived.

The union is also working with hospitals to get time off for nurses who want to go to Haiti, and many hospitals are cooperating with the effort, DeMoro says.

DeMoro and others cautioned nurses to be patient during an informational conference call about the mission, saying they were working with the Obama administration and other government officials to provide security and safe passage for nurses who would be working in Haiti, and would get them to Haiti as soon as they could do so safely. They said they understood the frustration of nurses who saw photos and videos of people in pain and who wanted to leave for Haiti immediately, but reiterated the need to give help in an organized, systematic fashion.

“No one should be going on their own,” said Karen Higgins, RN, president of the Massachusetts Nursing Association. “It takes time [to deploy], but it does happen.”

Nurses interested in working with the RNRN relief effort can sign up on the group’s Web site, NationalNursesUnited.org, or visit @NationalNurses on Twitter or by following: #haitiRN; or by calling the RNRN hotline: 800-578-8225.

Donations, which will be used to pay for travel-related costs and medical supplies for volunteer RNs on the emergency mission, can be sent to the California Nurses Foundation, 2000 Franklin St., Oakland, CA 94612.

Facilities and Groups Pitch In
Partners in Health of Boston coordinated relief efforts with nearly 500 nurses and more than 120 physicians on site two hours outside the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. “We have already begun to implement a two-part strategy to address the immediate need for emergency medical care in Port-au-Prince,” Ophelia Dahl, the current executive director of Partners in Health, wrote in an e-mail.

“First, we are organizing the logistics to get the medical staff and supplies needed for setting up field hospital sites in Port-au-Prince where we can triage patients, provide emergency care and send those who need surgery or more complex treatment to our functioning hospitals and surgical facilities,” Dahl wrote. “To do this, we are creating a supply chain through the Dominican Republic. Second, we are ensuring that our facilities in the Central Plateau are ready to serve the flow of patients from Port-au-Prince. Operating and procedure rooms are staffed, supplied and equipped for surgeries and we have converted a church in Cange into a large triage area. Already our sites in Cange and Hinche are reporting a steady flow of people coming with medical needs from the capital city. In the days that come we will need to make sure our pharmacies and supplies stay stocked and our staff continue to be able to respond.”

Dahl says the group is most in need of funding to pay for the response.

Massachusetts General Hospital sent 17 staff members, eight of which are nurses, with the International Medical Surgical Response Team East, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s international clinical outreach team for which Mass General has oversight, Wednesday night, according to Georgia Peirce of Mass General. Members came from various units throughout the hospital, including surgical ICU, emergency, pharmacy, social services, OB/GYN, police and security, trauma and pre-admission testing. They also sent five staff members with the MA-1 disaster medical assistance team, including three nurses. The hospital plans to send at least 12 nurses with Project HOPE on Saturday. They are calling for volunteers for the project, which has civilians working alongside the military. It first was used during the tsunami relief effort off the coast of Indonesia and then in the Gulf Coast after Katrina.

Jersey City (N.J.) Medical Center is planning to send a small team of physicians and nurses to Haiti “as soon as possible,” according to hospital spokesman Mark Rabson. More than 200 of the hospital’s 3,000 or so employees are of Haitian descent.

As of Thursday, Doctors Without Borders had to evacuate patients from its damaged medical facilities and was waiting for an inflatable hospital with two operating rooms to arrive. The group had treated 1,000 people in four tents and one city hospital in the meantime, according to a news release.

Unplanned Nursing Assistance
Twenty-three nurse practitioners, nursing students and support staff of the Little by Little Haiti medical mission group out of Glenview, Ill., who were scheduled to fly back from their week-long mission Wednesday, are offering care to disaster victims and do not know when they will be able to leave the country.

“The team is intact and well,” said Mary Gomez, RN, MSN, APN, nurse at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, of her colleagues. She has been getting occasional updates from her colleagues via Facebook and blog postings. Among the current group, four of the team members are from Children’s Memorial and seven are from the Glenview area, Gomez said. Since the earthquake, Gomez said the team has cared for more than 200 victims.

Because the Little by Little group was finishing its visit, it had few supplies remaining when the earthquake struck. “Their supplies were depleted,” Gomez said. “They were at the end of their week.”

The team usually helps patients with skin infections, gastrointestinal problems and nutritional support. “We don’t bring trauma supplies,” Gomez said. “They can only make due with what they have.”

That has included using broomsticks for splints and also tearing up scrubs to use as bandages. The most obvious need right now for the Haitian people, Gomez said, is funding. The military is still in search-and-rescue mode, she said. When working in Haiti, the Little by Little teams are hosted by Indiana native Beth Charles and her husband, Willem, who is a native of Haiti.

The Charles family runs Mountain Top Ministries in Petionville, Haiti, which is about 15 miles southeast of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The clinic where Little by Little teams work is two miles from Petionville, in the mountain town of Gramothe. Nurses from Children’s Memorial have been part of seven Little by Little teams that have gone to Haiti since 2006, Gomez said.

Barry Bottino is a regional editor, Cathryn Domrose is a staff writer and John Leighty is a contributing writer for Nurse.com.


To comment, e-mail editorNTL@gannetthg.com.
Haiti Earthquake Response Resources

American Red Cross
www.american.redcross.org

Center for International Disaster Information
www.cidi.org/incident/haiti-10a

Doctors Without Borders
http://DoctorsWithoutBorders.org

International Medical Corps
www.IMCworldwide.org

Little by Little Haiti
www.LittlebyLittleHaiti.org

Medical Teams International
www.MedicalTeams.org

Mountain Top Ministries
www.MTMHaiti.com

National Nurses United
www.NationalNursesUnited.org

Oxfam America
www.OxfamAmerica.org

Partners in Health
www.pih.org

United Nations Population Fund
www.unfpa.org