RN Volunteers Provide the Critical Gift of Medical Aid to Migrant Detainees
Fifth group of Registered Nurse Response Network nurses to staff emergency shelter
The Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN), a disaster-relief project of the California Nurses Foundation (CNF) and National Nurses United (NNU), is sending its fifth team of volunteer nurses to Tucson, Ariz., March 8 through March 10 to provide basic medical support to migrants and asylum seekers recently released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Nurses are providing the medical aid at a shelter operated by Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, which has cared for more than 2,500 migrants since October 2018 and in recent weeks has noted an uptick in the numbers of people coming through its doors. The RNRN volunteers are treating families, some of whom are fleeing extreme violence in their home countries.
RNs understand that many of these migrant families need medical care after their long and arduous journey and subsequent detention under harsh conditions in federal facilities. The nurses have volunteered their time through RNRN to answer the call to help.
Nurses from previous RNRN deployments to border towns said many migrants show signs of PTSD, trauma, dehydration, and exhaustion, as well as cold and flu symptoms. Nurses have treated them for a variety of illnesses, including dehydration, sprained ankles, broken bones, exhaustion, chicken pox, colds, viruses, and respiratory illnesses. Some of the migrants' deteriorated medical states appear to have been exacerbated by poor treatment and unhealthy conditions while in ICE detention. Recent news reports and congressional hearings revealed that detainees are often housed in fenced cages with concrete floors and cold temperatures without adequate bedding or clothing for warmth. Nurses from previous RNRN deployments said that in some cases, migrants reported that their labeled prescription medications had been thrown away by detention center staff.
Jessica Rose, a local Tucson registered nurse volunteer with this RNRN deployment, said she is motivated not only as a medical provider to help the migrants, but by her personal history. “I came from immigrant parents,” said Rose, who also speaks Spanish. “I have lived both in Tucson and El Paso, both border towns. We have a sense of responsibility for everyone because we all live in that community, and see with our own eyes the needs of the people migrating.”
Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, the group running the shelter, said that the RNRN nurse volunteers are providing an invaluable and critical service for migrant families. "Working with RNRN has been an amazing gift," said Teresa Cavendish, director of operations for the organization and for the Casa Alitas program. "The compassion, the understanding, and the empathy of the nurses, accompanied with the consistent, high-quality, round-the-clock nursing care they provide when they are with us, is more than we ever expected."
Rose sees herself as a person with a calling to help regardless of immigration status or nationality. “Because I’m a nurse, it’s definitely my duty and calling to help,” she said. “We care about people. All we should see is a human in need. We need to come together to help the person no matter where they’re from.”
RNRN has been sending nurses to the border region every weekend since the beginning of February and will continue to do so into the spring season.
RNRN volunteer nurses have cared for thousands of patients during disaster relief and humanitarian assistance deployments that include the South Asian tsunami (2004); Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005); the Haiti earthquake (2010); Hurricane Sandy (2012); Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda (2013); Hurricanes Harvey and Maria (2017); Vulcan de Fuego Relief in Guatemala and Hurricane Michael (2018); and the Continuing Promise 2010 and 2015 humanitarian missions with the Department of Defense. RNRN volunteers have also provided first aid and basic response services to hundreds of community events across the country, as well as rotating teams who assisted the water protectors in Standing Rock in 2016.
RNRN is powered by CNF and NNU, the largest union and professional organization of registered nurses in the United States with more than 150,000 members.