Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, November 2nd, 2010
Long after the TV news cameras have moved on, nurses keep going to earthquake-and now cholera-ravaged Haiti. Many are funded by donations to National Nursing United’s Registered Nurse Response Network.
RNRN was founded after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita exposed massive holes in America’s disaster response plans. Its intention is to coordinate volunteer RNs and send them to disaster-stricken areas to provide basic healthcare to people in need. The organization coordinates funding and logistics for the thousands of RNs who want to volunteer their services in times of need.
In the weeks following the earthquake, volunteer RNs helped staff the USNS Comfort, a navy vessel that cared for the most critically injured Haitians. They were also sent to a hospital just north of Port-au-Prince, in the town of Milot. Hopital Sacre Coeur is a 73-bed facility and the largest private hospital in the north of Haiti.
In the months that followed, teams of RN volunteers have also been based aboard the USS Iwo Jima, a Navy amphibious ship, in one-month rotations from July to November. In addition to Haiti, they have been working in makeshift clinics on the shores of Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Guyana, and Suriname.
The recent outbreak of cholera in Haiti brings additional need for nursing skills. Left untreated, the disease has the potential to swiftly escalate to epidemic status. The country is still in dire need of basic healthcare services, and volunteer RNs continue to face many difficulties with shortage of supplies and inadequate facilities, including lack of power and sanitation.
Haiti and other disaster areas need help long after the initial critical period and RNs are ideally suited to provide basic healthcare and train Haitian healthcare workers. Hospitals can support nurses who want to volunteer by making it easier for them to take unpaid leave and assuring their position is open when they return.
RNRN reports up to 12,000 nurses initially volunteered in the days following the January earthquake. Many were put off by uncooperative workplaces. Others banded together to go on behalf of their organizations and the trips proved to be something the whole organization could get behind, improving morale and providing favorable publicity.
Organizations that want to support volunteers during disaster relief efforts can do so in a variety of ways including:
- Offering and supporting leaves of absence
- Sponsoring employees on mission trips
- Organizing events to raise money to fund trips
- Organizing collections of supplies to send with staff
- Donating medical supplies and medications
To donate money to fund RNs trips, visit www.sendanurse.org.