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Nurses network to prevent future disasters like Hurricane Katrina

Washington Examiner, 3/22/07

By Maria Hegstad
Washington Examiner
March 22, 2007

WASHINGTON - Some 300 nurses in the Washington area have joined a national network of nurses willing to deploy to the sites of natural disasters wherever they occur.

The RN Response Network grew out of the problems incurred by the National Nurses Organizing Committee and the California Nursing Association to get nurses to Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi to aid victims of Hurricanes Katrina.

The group, which now has 4,000 members, raises funds for travel and expenses and works directly with federal and state agencies to resolve issues of medical credentials for out-of-state nurse volunteers.

Licensing was just one of the problems Sheri Stern, a nurse practitioner and psychiatric clinical nurse specialist from Baltimore County, faced when she tried to volunteer for Katrina relief efforts.

Determined to help, Stern signed up with seven organizations, trying to get to the Gulf Coast.

All turned her down. There were legal complications transferring nursing licenses between states. Another group canceled its trip because it said nurses weren’t needed.

“I had to go,” Stern said. “This is why I became a nurse.”

In December 2005, the California Nursing Association sent Stern to Gulf Port, Miss., for a week.

There she worked in a clinic of trailers, treating everything from depression to respiratory illnesses to bug bites. She slept in a church classroom.

It was nothing like her previous 32 years of nursing. In Baltimore County, Stern provides psychiatric care in several assisted-living homes.

She’s used to working with older patients. In Mississippi, she cared for people of all ages.

“It was life-altering,” Stern said emotionally.

Now part of the network, Stern was in Alexandria Wednesday to participate in Network disaster response training. Wednesday’s class was one of 45 the RN response network offered across the country this spring. The last class will be held in New Orleans.

The 2005 hurricanes also motivated Ann Hathaway, a newer recruit. “It seems like we can do better and we need to do better,” she said of the Katrina response. The Burke nurse called disaster relief “a wonderful mission for nurses.”

“We’re quickly deployable and our skills are essential,” she said.

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