January 2, 2014 - The latest group of registered nurse volunteers, who have been at work providing medical care to survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, recently returned to the United States. But the disaster relief program established by National Nurses United is far from over--another group is planning to head to the Philippines in early January.
RNs from Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Illinois, Arizona, and California returned in the latter part of December.
National Nurses United plans to continue sending RN volunteers to the Philippines well into the new year, and the group invites the public to make tax-deductible donations to support the relief effort to its Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) program at http://www.nationalnursesunited.org/pages/rnrn-disaster-relief-fund.
To date, several dozen RNs from across the United States have been on the ground, working in a variety of mostly rural settings, in health clinics, and makeshift settings, some of them in buildings ruined by the storm, providing hands-on care to more than 1,500 patients in the weeks following Haiyan, described by climatologists as the most powerful cyclone ever to make landfall.
Working side by side with local public health officials, physicians, and Philippines-based healthcare workers, the RN volunteers from the United States have been providing wound care, critical stress debriefings, tetanus and other shots, and other basic medical care.
The RNRN volunteers have worked mostly on the island of Panay, which was in the direct path of the storm, in roving clinics set up in ruined churches and schools in varied neighborhoods, a city health clinic in Roxas City, in Estancia at the site of a disastrous oil spill, and other locations.
In addition to the permanent and mobile clinics, in some of the most isolated settings, “We went directly to the people in their homes,” said Betty Sparks, RN, of Norwood, Mass., who recently returned home. She was particularly struck by the story in one house where a woman “showed us where they huddled in a corner and put a mattress over their head while the typhoon was blowing the roof off their house. She said she looked up and cried, ‘God, enough already!’”
“Even before the typhoon hit,” said Paolo Montenegro, RN, from Los Angeles, “many of the people we saw were medically underserved; that’s even more the case now. We saw lots of patients with chronic conditions, diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory conditions that need ongoing medical attention any way they can get it.”
Anna Rathbun of Duluth, Minn., a young RN on her first disaster relief assignment, said she was overwhelmed by how they were received. “The people were so welcoming and kind, even if they lost completely everything, they still want to welcome you into their homes and treat you like family.” In addition to triaging patients, providing wound and respiratory care, Rathbun also said she was able to deliver a baby. “There is still so much work that needs to be done. People can’t afford their medical care, they can’t afford their meds. A lot more has to go on.”
“Seeing the devastation and homes torn apart was really emotional for us,” reported Lori Barmore of Chandler, Ariz., who like Sparks is a veteran of disaster relief efforts. In addition to treating numerous injuries, much of the group's time was spent on emotional support for those suffering lingering effects from the storm disaster, including a lot of anxiety and insomnia, she noted.
As a pediatric nurse, Sparks said she spent a lot of time with the children, helping doctors with incisions and drainage of wounds. “I just feel so blessed that I can help people, this elevates me as a nurse and a person.”
“As large as this world is and where we live, this is still a little community,” said Montenegro. “Regardless of where we’re from, or what our background is, rich or poor, we all need some kind of help.” He encourages other nurses to participate. "The situation [in the Philippines] is pretty desperate due to the amount of people affected by the typhoon. For anyone who can come here, it will definitely be helpful for the people and their families.”
The next RNRN group preparing to help in the relief effort includes registered nurses from California, New York, and Texas, with additional RNs to be added. The group is expected to depart in early to mid-January. They are among the 3,200 RNs from all 50 states and 19 nations who have volunteered their help.