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Nurses take next step with national disaster organization

Star-Telegram, 1/22/07

By RASHA MADKOUR, Associated Press
Star-Telegram
January 22, 2007

HOUSTON - Nurse Bonnie Castillo remembers hearing from officials that the medical situation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck was "fine" - volunteers weren't needed.

Her peers on the ground painted a different picture, saying they desperately needed relief from endless shifts.

That experience led to the creation of the RN Response Network, a national list of registered nurses willing to go to disaster areas. The group held its first continuing education course Monday in Houston, hoping to educate nurses about what's involved with responding to a disaster and how to advocate for systemic change.

"They know they can have that immediate impact," said Castillo, the network's director. "It's what keeps us in nursing; it's not the money."

The 70,000-member California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, the nation's largest, formed the network soon after Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005. It sent more than 300 nurses to Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas during that emergency.

Now, with the luxury of time, the group is trying to make the process smoother for the next major disaster. The one-day continuing education course will be held around the country through May, from Portland, Ore., to Memphis, Tenn., to Baltimore, Md.

The group has established contact with the boards of registered nursing in various states, which are responsible for issuing licenses, including temporary ones to allow out-of-staters to practice nursing. It has established a grassroots network, unburdened by what it calls the profit-driven competition that pits hospitals against each other.

"We deal with the logistics and get them to the patients," said Jan Rodolfo, a nurse and board member of the California Nurses Association.

Raising money to fund the travel and lodging of its members hasn't really been a challenge, Rodolfo said. During Katrina, the sporting goods store R.E.I. donated sleeping bags, a California politician got a friend to donate a flight on a private plane for volunteers, and others donated money.

"Once people see you're doing something, you become a pull of attraction for people who want to help," Rodolfo said. "You need to harvest people's desire to help."

ON THE NET: RN Response Network, http://www.RNResponseNetwork.org 

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