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Nurses prepare disaster response - CNA builds fund for RN network

East Bay Business Journal, 9/1/06

By: Marie-Anne Hogarth
East Bay Business Journal
September 1, 2006

The California Nurses Association found a new use last year for its ability to organize nurses quickly. It sent more than 300 nurses to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Now, the CNA and its national arm, The National Nurses Organizing Committee, are preparing for the next disaster.

"We are trying to create a permanent roster of nurses," said union spokeswoman Liz Jacobs. "And we are looking to raise a lot of money."

The group sent out a mailing to more than 2 million registered nurses around the country offering them the chance to put their names on its RN Response Network. The nurses on this list could be deployed for one or two weeks at a time to assist in disasters.

The union is soliciting private donors. Jacobs said she did not know how much the union aims to raise. Jacobs said last year's trips cost an average of $1,300 per nurse not counting accommodations. In one case, nurses bunked in an abandoned hospital ward. The funds are being collected through CNA's philanthropic arm, the California Nurses Foundation.

The CNA, the state's largest nurses union, previously sent delegations of nurses to Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami. The union got involved following Katrina after being contacted by nurses who felt their skills were not being fully deployed by groups such as the American Red Cross.

In the aftermath of the hurricanes, the CNA provided half of the registered nursing staff at the Earl K. Long Memorial Hospital in Baton Rouge, La. Many of those nurses stayed on to help at make-shift clinics in New Orleans.

"The hospital in Baton Rouge was a small hospital. It has a normal census of 70 patients," said Todd Miller, a registered nurse who works in the emergency department at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center. "When we arrived, it was 180 and growing. The ER the day I arrived had close to 100 people waiting to be seen."

Miller said he and another Kaiser Oakland nurse, Shakti Rose, drove to New Orleans and worked at a clinic run by residents from Tulane University School of Medicine. The pair also located make-shift clinics and arranged for shelters so that other CNA nurses could come and work.

"It was hard getting the word out about where you could go and get care," said Pamela Luiz, a Kaiser Antioch nurse who worked at a clinic at the foot of New Orleans' Algiers Terminal. "There would be meetings but nobody knew what was going on."

A spokesman for the American Red Cross' Bay Area chapter, Bruce Burtch, said the primary role of nurses who work with the Red Cross is to monitor the health situation of the population.

"They provide first aid when needed, and especially look out for any communicable disease outbreak or if a person needs to be seen by county health services," Burtch said. "In other words, they would alert and work with the medical system, rather than serve primarily as nurses in the health system."

The Red Cross this week launched a separate call for volunteers to send to the Gulf Coast during this hurricane season.

California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee
Headquarters: Oakland
Founded: 1903
Executive Director: Rose Ann DeMoro
Membership: 70,000 members in 44 states
Address: 2000 Franklin St., Oakland 94612
Phone: 510-273-2200

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