Disaster Nurses

A group of registered nurses are creating a national network of disaster response teams. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the nurses realized the need for such an organization in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

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About 200 nurses from Texas have joined with 4,000 nurses from across the country to form the Registered Nurses Response Network, or RNRN. Bonnie Castillo is the director of the newly formed organization. She says hundreds of nurses were among the first responders after the levies broke in New Orleans and it quickly became apparent there needed to be a way to organize the volunteer response.

"What we saw afterwards was we wanted to be even more prepared because what we knew was that people had varying abilities to respond within a day, within two days, within a week and what we knew was the larger the pool of nurses that we had to pull from the more effective we would be in responding."

The RNRN is maintaining a database of volunteer nurses and the areas they specialize in. Castillo says they want to provide more than just a mobilization platform, they're also offering training around the country to help nurses prepare for what it will be like to respond to disaster sites.

"Typically in the immediate aftermath we do prepare our nurses to expect to have pretty austere living conditions, right, and be able to withstand some duress in terms of standing for long times, sleeping on the floor, bringing sleeping bags etc."

Bonnie Holman is a hospital nurse in Richmond. Holman says ever since September 11th, she's wanted to be a disaster response volunteer. She decided to sign up for the RNRN training after her own experience with evacuating during Hurricane Rita.

"I was evacuating and I ran out of gas and we ended up at a Red Cross shelter in Livingston. And in this high school where the shelter was we had like, I don't know, hundreds of people show up. We were stuffed, I mean you were on sleeping bags everywhere on the floors. We set up a clinic and we maintained the clinic for about four days until Livingston was scared of flooding so they closed down the school and I left."

Holman says as a nurse she has an obligation to help people and she wants to be ready the next time there's a disaster. The RN Response Network enlists and trains nurses, as well as arranges airfare, lodging, meals and medical credentials for their volunteers. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...