Press Release

Reflections of Katrina Nurses: Hope and Resolve - National Nurses Group Continues Work

For Immediate Release
August 29, 2007

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, countless numbers watched, and listened, to the growing chaos in disbelief. Thousands of registered nurses from across the nation, frustrated in their efforts to volunteer through government or private relief agencies turned to the National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association to do what they do best provide hands-on, front line care to the sick and injured.

NNOC/CNA is not normally in the disaster-relief business, but the professional organization of direct-care registered nurses quickly mobilized to place hundreds of RNs across the nation who responded to the organization’s emergency call for volunteers. By the time the flood waters were receding NNOC/CNA had placed over 300 nurses in 25 understaffed public hospitals, triage clinics and other facilities throughout Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

While in the Gulf these RNs helped care for the thousands of people abandoned without food, water, shelter, medical care, or even a basic evacuation plan. They returned to their own communities, vowing to change the way disaster relief occurs in this country. Their experiences gave birth to RNRN – the Registered Nurse Response Network, the first national network of direct care nurses that coordinates the deployment of volunteer RNs to disaster stricken areas when they are needed most.

One year after its formation RNRN has signed up over 4,000 RNs to relieve their beleaguered colleagues in the next disaster zone. The project has conducted classes in over 16 cities examining the RNs unique ability to be the driving force in pressing for universal health care and disaster preparedness/response standards. Class participants are resolved that by joining the network, they are taking steps to insure that the tragedies of Katrina are never repeated.

Sue Levitan, a nurse with 20 years experience at a Louisville, KY hospital who was sent to New Orleans by NNOC/CNA summed it up best: “Nurses can't prevent natural disasters, but we can help prevent man-made ones. That's why we joined together to be ready the next time disaster strikes, and are taking the necessary measures to make sure our health care system is ready too.”

While RNRN gives these nurse reason for optimism, the current conditions in the Gulf, where little has changed, and the health care system remain crippled, continues to anger them. RN Levitan explains, “many of the people hardest hit by Katrina were more vulnerable because their health had already been compromised by years of neglect from the health care industry that exists in this country. It's easy to find statistics about how the United States is 37th in the world in providing health care, but much more difficult to come face to face with the people who suffer as a result.”

With the city down 1,000 beds, 6,000 caregivers, and seven hospitals, people are not seeking care until they are acutely ill, New Orleans nurses find themselves delivering care to a sicker population in fewer settings with less resources.

“We are seeing an increased number of children with asthma from living in FEMA trailers that have mold and are cold in the winter and blazing hot in the summer,” said Laurie McInnis, a St. Bernard Parish native and RN who is the nurse coordinator responsible for the health and well-being of over 4,000 St. Bernard students, ranging from preschool to high school. “Our local hospital, Chalmette Medical Center, closed, the nearest hospital is now 40 minutes away, and the closest health facility is a clinic and urgent care center run by the Franciscans, located in a Wal-Mart parking lot that closes at 8:00 pm. Pre-Katrina there were 25 dentists and 10 pediatricians who took Medicare; today there are none.”

“The remaining nine hospitals in the area have minimal services with a shortage of beds which are understaffed and overloaded with too many patients,” said Charles Jarreau, an RN who worked the five days of the storm at the now-closed Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans and currently works in an outpatient surgery center that treats many forms of cancer. “We have lost many of our premier hospitals and diagnostic centers specializing in cancers. The few facilities that have re-opened are struggling.”

In the past year, RNRN has organized special fundraising projects to help sustain and rebuild a healthy New Orleans, focusing its efforts on 2 projects: the Lower 9th Ward Clinic and the St. Bernard Parish School District. NNOC/CNA and RNRN helped support the founding and construction of the clinic in response to the health needs of residents of the lower 9th ward and the failure of the government to provide adequate care. NNOC/CNA and RNRN helped support the founding and construction of the clinic in response to the health needs of residents of the lower 9th ward and the failure of the government to provide adequate care.

To find out more, visit the RN Response Network. RNRN is a project of the California Nurses Foundation and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee is the fastest- growing professional RN organization in the nation representing over 75,000 direct-care registered nurses in 170 facilities. RNRN is a program of the CNA/NNOC.